Earlier this evening, I had cause to make mention of the phenomenon of ‘back-filling’ or ‘retrospective’ additions to the Indo-European mythic corpus. What I mean by this – is that in some situations, as a mythological canon expands we seem to find certain details ‘shifting’; the gaps of space which are opened up via the re-situation of particular Gods as other figures (especially if there have now been some ‘double-ups’ occurring thanks to forgetting that some of these are in fact Facings of the same Deities), these ‘gaps’ becoming ‘back-filled’ with additions or reinterpretations which make sense in the newly expanded mythos yet which are fundamentally difficult to properly reconcile with the more originally archaic schema of the belief.
In such situations, there are a range of tools which we can deploy to try and cast our mind back down the skein of the schema and see how things ‘should’ have plausibly originally looked. One of which is, of course, the Indo-European comparative modelling – seeing how things align (or do not align) with what we either know directly, or can reasonably infer as to the archaic (P)IE situation, based particularly around the oldest canonical texts available to us, in the form of the Vedas. Iconographic and mythological-narrative-placement analysis are useful specific perspectives to marshall to our cause here – if a figure looks the same as another one, is equipped the same, and does the same sorts of things … then it is reasonably likely (although not necessarily to be counted as assured) that they might in fact BE the same upon proper, interrogative inspection.
Another, and vitally integral to our work – is tracing things out via linguistics. For, you see, even if the labelling may change in what it is oft-understood to refer to … the labelling itself is often still quite directly resonant with what was held affixed to those values in the generations, the millennia coming before.
Now I have previously demonstrated what I believe to be exactly this ‘backfilling’ phenomenon in motion with regard to several expressive emanations of the Striker/Thunderer deific complex – in specia, Perseus, Krishna, Karna [see my earlier ‘Perseus , Krishna , Karna – Three Perspectives Upon The Origin Myth Of The Indo-European Striker/Thunderer’]. For some reason, the Striker/Thunderer finds Himself remarkably frequently pseudo-euhemerized – transitioned in status from one of the Gods through to being something of a ‘Demigod’ … at least in life, as there is also frequently an ‘apotheosis’ undertaken when He eventually does die in mortal form, to take His righteous place back up amidst the Heavens.
We can already quite clearly view this as having occurred with Herakles – as, after all, there is quite a difference between the sort of mythic, primordial combat waged by the God Indra equipped with a mystically empowered thunder-weapon contra Vritra for the fate of the world’s water-cycle … and, for instance, the demigod Herakles armed with a wooden club going out to slay at the behest of a mortal king a rather less ‘cosmic’ adversary in a rather geographically specific marshland that could be located in both time and place by the Greek writers of the day as quite nearby. This trend becomes even more overtly occurrent when we consider the later Classical thinking (as demonstrated by Pausanias) which sought to further reduce the whole thing down to the slaying of a very large (but largely mundane) serpent of a single head. The process of making the myths ‘local’, in some IE descendant cultures has evidently entailed diminishing their inherently ‘mythic’ quality – perhaps to make them more easily situatable in just such a ‘local’ and therefore ‘accessible’ context. Who can say.
But to bring it back to the parental situation which forms the core of this piece – we appear to frequently observe that what had previously been an occurrence featuring two most definitely Divine (or Divinity-Adjacent) Parents, instead comes to feature at least one mortal in the mix instead. A process of ‘bringing things down to our level’ – although rarely, except wherein something has truly gone awry and often due to a conspicuous agenda (e.g. the euhemerizations of Sturluson), do (all of) these figures become entirely mundane, at least partially because for the archaic Indo-European Man, he still thought of himself as at least quasi-mythical … in potentia, and often outright via sufficiently removed direct ancestry as well.
To speak specifically to the Striker/Thunderer schema – my belief is that partially what has occurred here is a development of a relevant and evidently pan-IE mythically infused ritual wherein a King, as part of the Horse-Sacrifice, petitions to have ‘essence’ of the Sky Father emanated into his wife so as to beget a properly celestial-regal prince. Which, interestingly, should putatively make the human king and his son actually ‘half-brothers’ (well, third-brothers) as part of a logical lineage of succession – same ‘Divine Parent’, you see. This mythic schema, which we find directly attested in the Hindu Asvamedha rite, and reasonably closely correlately-expressed in the situation of the conception of Volsung to the king Rerir amidst the Nordic myths, and tentatively observable in an array of Greek comparanda upon the subject [for more upon all of this, please consult my earlier ‘The Apple of Odin to Rerir, The Fire-Seed of Agni, The Egg of Nemesis, The Paternity of Alexander, And The Asvamedha of Dasharatha – On The Equine Investiture Of The Divine Essence In A King’s Heir-To-Be In The Indo-European Mytho-Religious Sacro-Political Tradition’; which also considers the similar occurrence as applies the Dioscuri, Helen of Troy etc. – wherein what is quite clearly, per the Vedic expression, a standalone myth of the Gods has become loka-lized to a more mortal situation and in specia, the human kingdom of Sparta] … perhaps it has ‘fused’ with some refractions of the mythology of the Striker/Thunderer, hinged around the fact that the same Divine Father is involved; and motivated by a need to make a local human regime ‘legitimated’ via direct divine ancestry back to Same via the Striker/Thunderer. Certainly, there seems to be a semi-consistent mytheme of the overthrowing of a ‘less-legitimate’ king by the young princeling thusly conceived.
But let us move forward in earnest.
The way we can identify various of the figures involved in this in the Son of Heaven role, as Striker/Thunderer expressions is via those tools aforementioned. They tend to wield a rather large per-cussive weapon, They tend to have combative encounter with a demon-dragon of the waters, They have the aforementioned Heavenly Father, and They tend also to have various other subtle (or not-so-subtle) ‘hints’, particularly around Their own nomenclature which help us to divine what is truly going on with Them.
However, insufficient attention has been paid to the Mother figures of these putative Striker/Thunderer expressions. So whilst we can quite easily identify Odin, Shiva, Vayu, Zeus, etc. with the Sky Father deific … and it is not hard, likewise, to see how the Vasudeva of Krishna’s mythic parentage is likewise a Sky Father ‘echo’ (the Vasus, in the main, being ‘elemental’ facings of the Sky Father – and Vasu, itself, effectively meaning ‘Light’, therefore further supporting this .. Light-Deva, Celestial-Radiance Deva, is a rather blatant mytholinguistic schema of signposting!), or for that matter the Surya of Karna’s to be the same Surya that is the Sky Father (rather than the Son of the Sky Father) elsewhere within the Vedic/Hindu conception …
… it is easy to ‘gloss over’ the Mother(s) involved, especially if we are playing putative ‘Patriarchy Uber Alles’ as some so frequently seem intent to do when it comes to the archaic Indo-European mythos and accompanying civilization.
We would therefore quite likely miss that the ‘Danae’ Who mothers Perseus looks suspiciously in linguistic terms resonant with the ‘Danu’ figure Who is the Wife of the Sky Father in the ancient Indo-European mythology (attested also via the ‘Danann’ of ‘Tuatha De Danann’ – the [Deva/Tyr/Deus(Dei)] Tribe of Danu; and plausibly also via the Scythian ‘Dragon-Mother’ figure, inter alia – see my earlier excerpt from a longer work, ‘On Danu , Danann , Danube , And Other Watery Sources Of Life For The Ancient Indo-European Peoples’); the Semele Who mothers Dionysus, and Who linguistically directly seems to be an ‘Earth Mother’ figure (compare Slavic Zemlya etc.); the again rather blatantly obvious ‘Devaki’ [‘Divine’, ‘Celestial’, ‘Deva-alike’] Who is Mother to Krishna; the Pritha Who mothers Karna [albeit with the obvious phonetic resonancy between ‘Pritha’ and ‘Prithvi’ (i.e. ‘Earth’) being somewhat obscurated by the fact that ‘Pritha’ itself may also mean ‘Hand’], etc.
And that would be rather unfortunate, as there is more to what goes on via these ‘back-fillings’ than merely the identification of Maternity to the subject under discussion. Essence-tial qualities of the figures in question – the Striker/Thunderer expressions, I mean, not only His/Their Mothers – are also ‘encoded’ in such things … if we know where and how to look!
All of this brings us to Herakles / Hercules . A figure Whose own name is curious – as the name itself suggests a close and positive relationship with the Goddess Hera … a direct and ironic inversion of the situation that has come down to us via the relevant mythology.
Now to speak more specifically to the Divine Mother of the Striker/Thunderer – the two canons which preserve this most directly are the Vedic (Hindu) and Eddic (Nordic). In the former case, we have an array of theonyms for the Mother Goddess involved – two of the most prominent, of course, being Aditi and Prithvi (‘Unbound’ – although ‘Heaven’ is a not unreasonable figurative rendering, given the Solar Goddess characteristics of Aditi; and ‘Earth’); and in the latter, the most prominent would be ‘Jord’ (‘Earth’). I would contend that in just the same manner that we see strong resonancy between Frejya and Frigg with the relevant Vedic Goddess aforementioned – so too should Jord likewise represent the same Goddess under a different name in much similar manner to how Prithvi is likewise the Mother Goddess hailed in Earthy rather than more overtly Solar facing.
This Solar facing is essential to the etymology of both Juno and Hera – Juno being of the same ultimate origins as the ‘Ju-‘ in ‘Jupiter’, and the ‘He-‘ of ‘Hera’ likewise speaking to the Daylight Sky (c.f ‘Hemera’, etc.); part of a frequently encountered pattern also visible elsewhere of male and female pairings of deifics with similarly resonant names … and specifically, the Sky Father existing alongside a Sky Mother. Other examples of the latter including most prominently Dione (relative to Dios), and via the Diva Triformis, Diana.
So to phrase things directly – Herakles is bearing the name of a Solar Mother Goddess, that He is allegedly not descended from … but which the reconstructive typology suggests rather strongly that He should be. Especially in light of the Etruscan mythology’s preservation of a rather intriguing suggestion that Hercle (guess Who) is adopted by Uni (Juno) – and accepted as a Son, particularly via the provision of Her milk which renders Him godlike and immortal. I shall not delve too far into this Etruscan occurrence – except to suggest that a) it may represent a ‘harmonization’ of two traditions … the one wherein this ‘Hercle’ may originally have been a direct Son of the Sky Mother, with the other that had evidently become far more dominant within the Classical world of Hercules being the son of another mother [again, subject to the rather curious potential for a similar scenario in one RigVedic hymnal, dependent upon complexities of translation and scriptural exegesis]; and b) that the provision of the Milk of Uni to ‘divinely empower’ this Hercle may resonate with the Vedic typology wherein the Soma brew is, implicitly, a milk bearing the essence of divinity that is empowered by and presided over by Vak Devi, another name for the Mother Goddess (Who is also occurrent in Cow form, Her streams of milk being directly referenced as the Empowered Speech and such). [There is a Greek myth around Demeter empowering the hero Triptolemus in a similar way, although I am not sure how closely it is related].
In terms of the figure identified as the ‘mortal’ mother of Herakles in the conventional reading of the mythology, two names stand out for us – Alcmene and Electryone.
Now, Electryone is an interesting one – ostensibly this is a patronymic for the Mother of Herakles, derived from His maternal grandfather, Electryon. And yet … we also have attestations for a Goddess by the name of Electryone, existing particularly upon Rhodes as a Daughter of Helios; likely a Dawn Goddess. This is unsurprising – the notion of the Dawn as the Daughter of the Sun is evidently quite an ancient and an archaic Indo-European understanding. However, there is a bit of a complication – as it would not really fit our reconstructive typology to have the Mother of the Striker/Thunderer be Herself a Daughter of the Sun. Instead, I suspect that ‘Electryone’, with a name referring to Gold or Amber per its etymology (also from the same root as the modern ‘Electron’, etc.; consider ‘Elector’ – ‘The Shining/Beaming Sun’) may be a more generic Solar theonymic … with the Electryone of Rhodes, especially informed by the ‘Alectrona’ (a curious female construction for ‘Rooster’ in Ancient Greek) being a separate deity referred to under similar designation. This is a situation with a reasonable degree of precedency, after all – as can be seen via, for instance, the Surya, Surya, and Surya of the Vedic sphere (that being the Sky Father, the Son of the Sky Father, and a Daughter of Surya … all with very, very close nomenclature).
In any case – ‘Electryone’ for the Mother of Herakles would accord rather well with the Solar Mother Goddess being the Mother to the Striker/Thunderer deific, as we have seen with the relationship between Vedic Aditi and Indra (or, in admittedly adoptive terms, Etruscan Uni and Hercle). So well, in fact, that I would contend it to be the original situation – which has still been recalled via the nomenclature, even as it has become de-emphasized in its true essence via the ‘euhemerization’ of the Mother Goddess down to the status of a more mortal mother.
The other major naming for the Mother of Herakles in question is, of course, Alcmene – a term which is usually rendered as ‘Alke’, meaning ‘Strength’, ‘Courage’, ‘Protection’, ‘Force’, ‘Martial Proficiency’; in combination with ‘Mene’ … ostensibly connected to ‘Menos’, ‘Menis’ etc. and to mean ‘Wrath’ (c.f my previous work upon the Manyu particle), although curiously, with the ‘Mene’ in question being the same as the Ancient Greek word for Moon. Therefore, while we are often told that Alcmene ought mean ‘Strong in Wrath’ (or, perhaps, ‘Wrathfully Protective’ … and there may quite literally be a Mother Bear involved once I make progress upon my constellation analysis in an upcoming (A)Arti-cle), it actually appears to (also) mean ‘Moon-Strength’.
But why would the Striker/Thunderer deific be linked to a name meaning ‘Moon-Strength’?
Oddly enough, it’s Nordic skaldic verse to the rescue!
The Husdrapa, as I previously looked at in ‘The Triumph Of The Thunder-God – Restored : An Analysis Of A Husdrapa Hailing Of Thor’s Victory Over Jormungandr Via The Vedic Verses’, records what I believe to be a more accurate Nordic understanding of the combat of the Striker/Thunderer (i.e. Thor) ‘gainst the Demon Dragon of the Waters than what we often find in Sturluson … insofar as it has the combat having already (victoriously) occurred, rather than being deferred to the War at the End of the World. Within it, we find the following:
“Innmáni skein ennis
ǫndótts vinar banda;
ôss skaut œgigeislum
orðsæll á men storðar.”
“The interior-moon of the forehead [i.e. the Eye] of the Gods’ fierce friend [i.e. Thor] shone; the renowned God shot terror-beams at the necklace of the earth [i.e. Jormungandr].”
And, to continue quoting from my previous work upon the subject:
“This is corroborated via the Gylfaginning’s presentation of the episode:
“And it may be said that no one has seen very fearful sights who might not see that: bow Thor flashed fiery glances at the Serpent”
There is quite an array of conceptry for rather powerful and luminous eye-beams resultant from the investiture of the divine energy of the Furor – Diomedes, granted the Menos-power by Athena, presents with Flaming visage about His helmet as the dulling mist is lifted from His Eyes, and it is similar with regard to Achilles. To quote directly from the Iliad:
“Howbeit, when Achilles saw the arms,
then came wrath upon him yet the more,
and his eyes blazed forth in terrible wise
from beneath their lids, as it had been flame;
and he was glad as he held in his arms the glorious gifts of the god.”
“when Athena had dropped Nectar and Ambrosia into Achilles
so that no cruel hunger should cause his limbs to fail him,
She went back to the house of Her mighty Father.
[…] he gnashed his teeth, his eyes gleamed like fire,
for his grief was greater than he could bear.
Thus, then, full of fury against the Trojans,
did he don the Gift of the God,
the armor that Hephaistos had made him.”
Read that second swathe again – Achilles samples of the Empowering Elixir, and in a mighty rage, “his eyes gleamed like fire”.
We know that the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer consumes the Empowering Elixir prior to wading forth into warfare with the Demon Dragon of the Waters (the RV VIII 100 hymnal aforementioned is prominent in its direct description of this up-arming). We know that this is described, it would appear, in terms pertaining to the Eyes of the mighty figure ‘lighting up’ with terrific radiancy. I do not mean to propose Achilles as an instance of the Striker/Thunderer typology – only to observe that via the triangulation afforded to us of the Iliad, the Armenian epic aforequoted from, and other such conceptry … that this would appear to support rather strongly the idea of Thor’s evident Terrifying Gaze of celestial energy, is also similarly resultant from the imbibing of the Empowering Elixir.”
Or, phrased more succinctly – despite the fact that Thor does not seem to consume a Soma brew prior to smiting Jormungandr, He nevertheless displays key signs of having done so … exactly as Indra does in the course of His version of the Dragon-Slaying (the Milk-based beverage bestowed by Vak); and exactly as we also see attested in the Iliad when Diomedes and Achilles are empowered by Athena (closely correlate with Vak Devi, aforementioned) and Athena bestowing ‘nectar and ambrosia’ (i.e. this aforementioned Empowering Elixir of the Gods, akin to Soma and to Amrit) respectively.
We do not have similar referency for Herakles requiring such an Empowering Brew in order to smite the Hydra – or otherwise to be so marvellous in combat as He unquestionably is. And yet, we do not need this. We know from the Vedic comparative that it should be there. Preserved also, as again aforementioned, via the nourishing Milk of Uni to Hercle in the Etruscan understanding of this same divine myth.
And how does this relate to the name of Alcmene? Well, it would suggest likewise that this connotes the empowerment bestowed to the (Demi-)God via the Elixir. How do we know this? Because of – again – the Vedas. We find therein that Soma is correlate with Chandra – to the point that the two names refer to the same figure (and to this we can also add Indu – ‘Bright Drop’). Soma is very much a Moon Brew ; which would therefore very strongly suggest that the Alke quality of Herakles is similarly connected to the Mene – the Moon. This does not necessarily mean that the more conventional ‘Mene’ as in ‘Menos’ etc. is excluded – it may be one of those delicious multi-layered mytholinguistic references wherein both rather than either is intended. Both Moon and Wrath (as in, the Divine Furor state – no mere ‘human’ irritation) provisioning the Alke, the Strength or Power or Force or Protection in question.
Alcmene, therefore, should stand for the (maternally-provisioned) Empowerment via this milky (perhaps Moon-white) elixir – and refer to a quality of the Striker/Thunderer which has become quite ‘residual’ in some various Indo-European mythic understandings. Certainly, the wide-eyed quality of the divine fury might also expose so much of the ‘whiteness’ of one’s eye as to make a ‘moon-eyed’ concept more overtly visually resonant in reference to the overt expression of His Wrath.
Now I am aware that much of what I have said is conjectural – indeed, it shall surprise me somewhat if I do not wake up to find some outright dismissals of my contentions by the sorts of people who insist that the comparatively late redactions of this or that myth within the Classical sphere by then-living poets or proto-tourist guide writers ought be taken as the literally (in lieu of literarily) unimpeachable statements of Divine Holy Writ. This is not to say, of course, that these texts which come down to us are lacking in value – especially in terms of their artistic merit, and as a record for what the men of the time in this or that area actually did happen to believe. Only to emphasize that what we have of the Classical era, just as with the Nordic one of a millennium, a millennia and a half later – is fragmentary, the result of numerous gleaning pens taking tales in different directions (including ‘downhill’), and often downright internally inconsistent to the point of incomprehensibility when we read it strict-literally and as it is in front of us upon the page. In the Hindusphere, we have two generalized grades of canonicity – Shruti and Smriti. Shruti (‘That Which Is Heard’) comprises the highest grade, as it is ‘direct revelation’ of something fundamental, immanent, indeed nigh-foundational to the Universe. Smriti, meanwhile, (‘That Which Is Recalled’), are works written by particular authors and then passed on down the generations. The latter often draws from the former; and within the former, there are also spectra of just how reliable and in what sense something is likely to be … but it is a useful distinction to keep in mind. Especially when we encounter the ’embarrassment of riches’ which is the post-Vedic sphere of texts, wherein we literally do have hundreds of rather large documents all presenting particular perspectives upon matters which have much more briefly been parsed in the Vedas – and which might merit only a single line or paragraph when it comes to the comparative occurrences of the same mythic events or formulae in the canons of the other Indo-European spheres.
We can already demonstrate, as I have noted earlier, that various details of the mythology as known to the Greeks, Romans, and other persons in or adjacent to the Classical era and sphere … has shifted in various ways. Both relative to itself (i.e. the Greek, Roman, Etruscan, etc. perspectives of different times or even the same time and located just down the road by as little as a few miles), and also relative to the broader Indo-European understanding of this or that matter. There is nothing unnatural about that, and nor is it a phenomenon exclusively confined to the Mediterranean. Myths do quite naturally grow and shift with the needs of the peoples engaging with them – and often, we find that ‘parallel myths’ branch out from this previously prevailing underlying unity so as to preserve by some measure specific essences and relationships which have fallen by the wayside in other dominant narratives as they are transmitted forth down the ages. However, in the absence of something as comprehensive and as archaic as the Vedas – it is difficult indeed to reliably chart this course with anything like the definitive accuracy we have in the Hindusphere. And we are left compiling an approximate ‘trajectory’ based upon the few snapshots of text that have come down to us from the Hellenic – and thence extrapolating back , especially viewed commensurate with the comparative evidence from these other Indo-European mythoreligious canons, a reconstruction of how things should have looked earlier on.
I think that we can state with reasonable certainty that the Greek (and later Roman) recountings of Herakles (Hercules) as being a mortal (pre-apotheosis) Who goes forth armed with the bough of a tree to fight a serpentine adversary in a marsh … is a rather significant departure and a diminishment from the more ‘cosmic’ and ‘transcendental’ conceptry of the Vedic regailing of the same Myth – wherein Indra is equipped with a mystically empowered Thunderbolt charged with the energies of Absolute Cosmic Law Herself, to fight a demon-dragon who has captured and disrupted the water-supply and water-cycle of the world necessary for the maintenance of life in this universe of ours. Albeit one wherein it is nevertheless quite abundantly clear that the same broad structure has been maintained – and one can reasonably directly see how to get from one to the other (particularly via the vaunted assistance of Trita Aptya / Iolaos , and Athena / Vak Devi ,of course).
I therefore think that it is of, at the very least, strong probative value to consider the maternal parentage of Herakles in exactly this light – as being something wherein the more ‘mortal-ized’ (and, if you like, ‘loka-lized’) perception of these origins of the Classical Striker/Thunderer figure conceals the far more archaic and truthful essence-tial origin of these figures , cunningly concealed behind those remarkably durable kernels of mythic meaning … the Names. Especially and particularly when considered in Their proper contextual association and comparative Indo-European analytical rubric.
Perhaps, we may suggest, Herakles really is the ‘Glory of Hera’ after all.