[Author’s Note: This work brings together several (my)themes close and dear to my heart. It had been intended to be published upon MahaShivRatri – the 1st of March in 2022 – however, Time waits for no man (other than Her Husband); and my continuing to find further elements which cried out to be included resulted in a delay in its release. We trust that the enhancements of its quality and caliber shall ensure that it proves ‘worth the wait’.
It has also grown out of my ongoing research and writing efforts for a conference paper that I’ll be presenting upon this subject later this month. I would not have been able to get this to the state that it is presently in without the support and assistance of several persons, who know who they are (M, O.R., S.W., S.S.; and art by HC).
We must also, of course, dedicate this piece to that most particular of manyufestations of Devi and the RudraGanika Retinue. The रचना – The Divine Plan.
And so at last we come to it again. Our annual MahaShivRatri tribute piece. Every year we make use of this opportunity – the Great Night of Shiva – to engage in an exploration. We take as our starting point, a salient feature of Rudra of the Hindu understanding – and then chart not only this, but also the cognate beliefs for the similar elements for the same Deity elsewhere across the Indo-European sphere. Why do we do this? To Honour the God directly through this extolling of His glories – and to facilitate others to do the same. Not simply via engaging with our understanding of Shiva – but also through assisting to illuminate in grander depth and detail the features of the coterminous facings of the Indo-European Sky Father known to these other cultures as well. We Hindus can also benefit through being able to envisage our own Gods and theology through the slightly different perspectives afforded to us via the comparative Indo-European theology – and by helping to illuminate the essential underlying consistencies of this God and this religious sphere all across the Indo-European World, we all gain a better understanding and appreciation of one another, our mutually entwined threads of heritages, as well.
The first of these tribute works, in 2019, was our emphatically well-received ‘GHOST DIVISION – On The BhutaGana of Mahadev & The Einherjar of Odin’. This looked at the supernally sepulchral retinue of the God in both Hindu and Nordic / Germanic terms, encompassing not only the Ganas and great Valhallan warriors of the title – but also the Wild Hunt phenomenon, and an array of other, closely related conceptry besides.
The next year, we followed this up with ‘MahaShivRatri And The Mytholinguistics Of War [Part 3] – The Mind, The Mania, The Manyu’. This examined at quite some considerable length the phenomenon of ‘Furor’ and the God Who both Bestows and Embodies same. We charted a course therein from the Proto-Indo-European *Men [‘Mind’, ‘Spirit’, ‘Mental Activity’] out through the Manyu of the Vedas (The Foremost of the Vedic War Gods – and also, entirely uncoincidentally, a form of Rudra) and the Menos and Menis of Diomedes and Achilles respectively, through to functional (if not linguistic) cognates such as the Old Norse ‘Odr’ (whence Odin); along the way checking in upon Athena / Minerva, Veerabhadra, Bhairava, Vak, Durga and Kali, and particular points pertaining to Zeus (and Metis) as well.
2021 saw ‘Tryambaka Triophthalmos Triformis – The Three Eyes Of The Indo-European Sky Father As Seen Through Vedic & Hellenic Perspective’; which explored the entire Indo-European cosmology via the triplicate-lenses bestowed to us through Shiva as Tryambaka, and the ‘Three-Eyed’ (Triophthalmos) form of Zeus attested in Pausanias. We parsed not only various Vedic and other Indo-European ‘layerings’ of the cosmos, but also the Deific facings keyed to same – the Sky Father (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon), and also His Wife (via the Diva Triformis conceptry).
So what does 2022 bring? In some ways, I suppose, it is a ‘companion piece’ to our first effort. Yet whereas that work looked at the *male* (predominantly) retinues of Rudra-Odin (perhaps, in a mythic typology of semi-archetypal expression, what is often termed the ‘Mannerbund’) … this shall seek to examine the *female* equivalent. You would know Them (in descending order of likely familiarity) as the Valkyries, the Amazons (at least, some of them), the Maenads, the Meliae, the Matrikas, the RudraGanikas. We might perhaps term these the Mädschenbund (per suggestion from O.R.).
And whereas the 2019 GHOST DIVISION offering was mostly focused in upon Rudra and Odin – more experienced readers shall note that the array of feminine retinues aforementioned indicates a rather broader and more expansive scope to this year’s encompassing: Odin, Apollo, Dionysus, Rudra Shiva, respectively. Several other Masques of the Sky Father may also put in an appearance as we get under way.
This piece also differs markedly from its earlier predecessor in one other key respect – it looks significantly at a ‘living recurrence’, of a sort, for the mythology in question. It seeks to elucidate a rather amazing and culturally consistent process whereby the Myth was Resonated With, and human devotees could indeed become part of the Retinue of the Mighty God.
It also notes – with some sadness – the charted course via which various Indo-European cultures effectively saw the initial framework for this practice, which existed in something of a ‘quantum’ phase-space between Mythic and Sidereal, tend to both ‘collapse’ (and render either the Mythic or the Sidereal fundamentally de-emphasized) as well as ‘hollow out’ as the centuries wore on.
Until finally, all which has been left for most of us is ‘stories’. And not even the true and authentic kind – but rather, the ones which have grown up in effective ‘displacement’ of the proper Myths that we might find it all the more difficult to meaningfully engage with them and bear them truly in earnest.
It is, therefore, both a story of excitement (indeed, ‘furor’ is most relevant here – as it ever is) – and a ‘cautionary tale’ to us moderns as we seek to rediscover and to resurrect these most ancient and most truthful of traditions of ours.
Yet let us go forward to the past.
Spear-Maidens, With Weapons Raised
The most archaic attestations we have for the clade at the center of all of this are to be found in the Vedas. In both the famed Sri Rudram of the Yajurveda, and that most excellently intriguing Bhava & Sarva Hymnal of the AtharvaVeda, we find them. There are, of course, also other mentions to be found elsewhere within the Vedic corpus which we may address as they become relevant to us later in the here and now.
The Sri Rudram’s 4th Anuvaka extols both ’Vividhyantis’ and ’Uganas’. It forms an ideal starting-point for our discussion, precisely because it is so emblematic for why this clade has remained under-spoken of for so long.
Western translations of the verses in question frequently render them in oversimplified form – overlooking the feminine gender of the terms in question. So we get ”You that pierce” and ”You that are in bands”, respectively (to cite the Keith translation of the Yajurveda’s Taittiriya Samhita). It is not that these renderings are ‘incorrect – it is more that they are significantly ‘incomplete’. Ugana would, more properly, refer to an armed company whose weapons were raised up – ready to attack. And, as we say – in both cases, the groups in question are of *female* combatants. Something which does not exactly come through with simple ‘You’ or ‘Bands’ etc.
Naturally, Indian (or, we may suggest, endogenously Hindu) translations are often better in this regard. Partially due to the greater sensitivity to the gender of language, perhaps. But most definitely availed by commentaries such as those of Sayana which seek to draw out various of these intricacies and explore their implications. Connecting, say, the Uganas to the later SaptaMatrika tradition. And we shall most definitely be returning to the Matrikas in due course !
Meanwhile, when we come to the relevant major AtharvaVeda hymnal, the issues are both similar and different. They are similar, insofar as the gender of the terms in question is frequently overlooked. They are somewhat different, in part, due to textual issues we shall encounter in a moment.
The Griffith rendering of one of the relevant verses [AV-S XI 2 31], for instance, reads: “Homage to Thy loud-shouting hosts and Thy long-haired followers! Homage to hosts that are adored, homage to armies that enjoy Homage to all Thy troops, O God. Security and bliss be ours!”
The Muir: “Reverence, O god, be to Thy shouting hosts, reverence to Thy long-haired, reverence to Thy reverenced, reverence to Thy devouring hosts! May well-being and security be to us!”
The Whitney: “Homage to Thy noisy ones, homage to Thy hairy ones, homage to those to whom homage is paid, homage to the jointly-enjoying—homage, [namely], O God, to Thine armies; welfare [be] to us, and fearlessness to us.”
Whitney includes in his commentary that the terms involved are feminine – but perhaps presumed that this was simply the result of ‘Sena’ (Army) being a feminine noun, rather than the constituents of said army being, themselves, female.
However, we can be sure that the terms are intended to refer to a female coterie of Rudra’s Retinues thanks to the comparatively recent ‘rediscovery’ of an alternative recension of the AtharvaVeda. This is the Paippalāda version (indeed, versions plural – there has been some debate as to the precise reconstruction in part due to the earlier ‘Kashmirian’ version which had been brought to the attention of Western Indologists first), whereas the more usually encountered AtharvaVeda for academic purposes is the Shaunakiya (hence my demarcation of AV-S in the above quotations). The Paippalada text has, unfortunately, not been fully translated as yet – indeed, the book of this iteration of the AV which contains this relevant hymnal is the last one to await such attentions.
We shall not go through in depth what is entailed there, but suffice to say that its presentation of the relevant verses is quite different in its formulaic construction – resonating more closely with the more archaic, indeed downright RigVedic in some areas style of mantras.
So, between all versions of the hymnal at issue, we can therefore produce a general list of traits comprising the following:
Ghosini [’Powerfully Voiced’], Keshini [’Wild-Haired’], Sambhunjati [‘Eating-Together‘], Namaskrta [’Worshipped‘], Namasvati [’Who Worship’], Jayamanayai [’Daughters’], and others. Elsewhere within AV-S XI 2, we also find the Vikesi [’Distinctively Haired’], who are similarly engaged in loud howling [’gharudo’].
The mention in AV-S XI 2 11 for these Vikesi is additionally interesting for reasons we shall come to address later in earnest, as they occur in connection with Pashupati (The Lord of Animals – we may surmise also in the sense of the Great Hunter given the citation for the title’s bestowal in the Shatapatha Brahmana etc.) and alongside His (Hunting) Dogs.
Yet let us move forward.
The Adi Female Alpha
The obvious question confronting us here is if the Vedic texts are so pronounced in their hailing of the female Retinue of Rudra – where is this Retinue to be found in the subsequent annals of scripture? Did it become de-emphasized and simply drop out of common knowledge for some reason?
Of course not. In fact, if anything, the opposite occurred. The female figures in question were regarded with such incredible esteem that over a period of centuries they became identified as expressions of the Goddess themselves. This is the aforementioned trajectory of development correctly identified by Sayana which sought to connect the Ugana of the Sri Rudram with the SaptaMatrikas of the later Shakta-Shaivite corpus.
This occurred alongside an ‘intermediary’ yet also ‘parallel’ stage wherein the female coterie of Rudra became hailed as the ‘Matrikas’ – the Mothers. Which has therefore meant that while it seems quite likely that the SaptaMatrika concept is a furtherance of what has occurred with the ‘Matrika’-ization of Rudra’s retinue (or, rather, a ‘corralling’ of several already-extant Goddess-expressions into such a semi-coterminous clade *with* the Matrikas and thusly labelled accordingly) – the impressive Seven Mothers have never displaced the more general Matrika clade. We still find Them just where They have always been – in various realms of scripture, in accompaniment of the most formidable of War Gods. The Mahabharat presents a Matrika retinue for Skanda / Kumara ; we might sensibly ponder whether certain female retinues of Durga are likewise linked ; but for our purposes, we are of course focused in upon those Matrikas Who Ride in accompaniment to Rudra.
One very prominent occurrence of this expression is to be found in the work of the famed poet, Kalidasa.
To quote from the Griffith translation of his Kumārasambhava [‘The Birth of the War-God’]:
“The Matrons [Matrikas] followed Him, a saintly throng,
Their ear-rings waving as they dashed along —
Sweet faces, with such glories round them shed
As made the air one lovely Lotus bed.
On flew those bright Ones — Kali came behind,
The skulls that decked Her rattling in the wind :
Like the dark rack that scuds across the sky,
With herald Lightning and the Crane’s shrill cry.
Hark ! from the glorious bands that lead the way,
Harp, drum, and pipe, and shrilling trumpet’s bray,
Burst through the sky upon the startled ear
And tell the Gods the hour of worship ‘s near.”
Now this is rather curious, because what we see here is Kali accompanying Lord Shiva … as Lord Shiva goes to meet His Bride – Parvati, the Daughter of King Himavat. An appropriate mythic occurrence to cite here as it is, of course, in large measure what MahaShivRatri is all about. Except whereas these days the more contemporarily-familiar expression for the Bhole Ki Baraat [armed wedding procession of Lord Shiva] is to be found in human devotees adorning themselves as the fearsome BhutaGana [‘Ghost Company’] and parading through the streets in accompaniment of a Shiva murti as an act of Eliadian Eternal Return / mythic resonance … here, as we can see, in the archaic perception there was also scope for our *female* mythic coterie of Rudra to be present in the wedding processional as well.
And we shall also address the broader scope for Eternal Returning and mythic engagement later in the piece.
To return to the perhaps under-expected scenario of Kali in amidst these Matrikas, this is enormously instructive as to the true nature of what these fearsome female figures really are.
These are, in essence, the ‘Shaktis’ of Rudra (per Manasataramgini’s, and no doubt others’ analysis; which also posits these as the effective underpinning of the Yogini & Tantrika Kaula traditions) – and hence, are continually there even when the major locus of Shakti, His Wife, is separated from Him. Kali, we might suggest, is there as a sort of ‘Shadow-expression’ of Her likewise. We may also healthily opine that what is observed via the array of terms utilized to describe the female Gana members in the AtharvaVedic and YajurVedic scripture – is that these are all, in essence, traits we would often associate with their Lord, Rudra.
The female retinue members are, therefore, embodying traits of Rudra in just the similar manner that other Ganas of Rudra elsewhere in the Shruti are said to. Indeed, we may consider them in some ways to be expressions of Him likewise. Something which certainly comes through in the later materials which detail the mythic origins of the RudraGanikas (whom we shall be meeting shortly) as His Daughters, as well.
To briefly return to the situation of the Matrikas in Their subsequent development, what we also see is a trend whereby what are general qualities in the Vedic expression are ‘focused’ into characterizations for specific individual members of Rudra‘s associated sphere in subsequent texts. The figure of Kesini presents a clear exemplar – being a particular individual Matrika both in service of and congealed by Rudra, whilst also bearing the name closely coterminous with that utilized to describe Rudra‘s female Ganas via that quality in the Vedas. I suspect that this typology is also in evidence in some of the Western Indo-European (i.e. European) situations we shall be considering later on – in particular, certain of Odin’s Valkyries, who would appear to bear names directly commensurate with generalized qualities of both the archaic Vedic female Ganas of Rudra, as well as, one supposes, the general milieu of Valkyries within the canons of the Nordic / Germanic mythic perception.
However, it is also necessary for us to acknowledge another point of key resonancy here. The Wife of the Sky Father is resonant with Him in various traits – They are counterparts, co-expressive, and in our terms, a unity that is a greater whole viz. Ardhanarishvara … the re-combination of which is, in part, what we are celebrating tonight. It is therefore entirely logical that just as these female Ganas of Rudra bear traits which are identifiably, indeed iconically Roudran – so, too, do we see various of these traits also in Her.
The presentation of Kali at this point in Kalidasa’s verse is exactly this – a Goddess-form Who is widely renowned for Her traits that we have earlier met in the Shruti in application to these female Roudran retinue-members: ‘Resoundingly Voiced’ (indeed, outright *Roaring* – viz. RudraKali) [Ghoshini], ‘Wild-Haired’ [Keshini or Vikeshi], ‘Devouring’ [Sambhunjati], (Piercingly) Well Armed [Vividhyanti] and ready to attack [Ugana], etc. … it is a salient comparanda.
Indeed, it is a situation wherein what we in truth observe is that She is (also) the archetypal apex for the typology which these other female figures are, to some degree, co-expressive of. A leader, a commandant, of the clade in question as well. Ever alongside Her Husband – whether Her or He is necessarily overtly spoken of as present or not.
And whilst Kali may present the obvious exemplar here, it is a pattern persistently found – when Shiva appears in Kirata form alongside a legion of His female retinue in the Mahabharata – He and they are accompanied by Uma, likewise in Kirata form as are the retinue. Similarly, if we consider the figure of Vikesi, we once again see a trait which is identified closely with Rudra’s female Ganas in the AtharvaVedic hymnal aforementioned … and which comes to demarcate a naming for a form of Rudra’s Consort in the later scripture (indeed, interestingly the Mother of Mars / Mangala by Shiva as Sarva (‘The Archer’), and represents an Earth form Herself of notably frightful appearance).
In terms of the broader Indo-European typology at play here, we may observe immediately the situation of Perchta / Holda / Holla (and it is particularly interesting to consider a potential alternative etymology there wherein ‘Holla’ etc. might instead derive from the *other* PIE *Kel, the one which also underpins Kali in Sanskrit) acting as Leader of the Wild Hunt in the (Continental) Germanic sphere. Not for nothing do we find Holla as ‘Frau Wodan’, etc. in such a context. In various regards, one supposes, we may also speak of those other Goddess-expressions Whom one can link to Odin – Skadi, as we know from previous analysis upon the subject, is both a Huntress, and a ‘Black Avenging Form’ in the same fashion as Kali relative to Parvati (indeed, Skadi is also very prominently a Mountain dweller as well); Freyja, meanwhile, rules over a counterpart realm to Valhalla in the form of Folkvangr – it should seem eminently logical that just as Valhalla has its Valkyries and Einherjar, Freyja might possess similar linkages.
Similarly, we may also point toward the situation of ‘Melia’, a consort of Apollo. There is an identically named figure occurrent as consort to Poseidon. We have earlier demonstrated significant ‘resonancies’ between both Poseidon and Apollo with Rudra, so this should be unsurprising in the extreme. Although the reason that the Meliae (plural – also seen as Meliai) had come to my attention most pointedly was due to their featuring so prominently within the war-procession of Dionysus. There, the Meliae present as, we might say, ‘Spear-Nymphs’; the term in Ancient Greek enjoying a multi-faceted resonancy of direct relevancy to our pursuits here. We shall be meeting this ashen clade, too, in due course – however it seemed eminently appropriate to ‘signpost’ at this point the parallel occurrence of this identification of the God’s Consort as an ‘apex’ of the female retinue. We may perhaps surmise that the figure of Thyia, another consort of Apollo (and yet also, again, per Pausanias seemingly romantically linked to Poseidon), as an archetypal / apex expression of the Thyiade (‘Priestess’ – Female Sacrificer) clade most usually encountered in the worship of Dionysus, to be likewise.
Yet let us return to the most fascinating ‘broader’ expression of the typology.
Namely, the one wherein it starts to emanate out into our human, sidereal, mortal realm.
Myth, In Motion – Enter The RudraGanika
Now as we have aforementioned, there is a customary tradition of, upon the night of MahaShivRatri, human devotees of the Great God acting as His Ganas in the course of the Bhole Ki Baraat. This is part, we may suggest, of a broader style of ritualistic action wherein persons worshipping Him take up such ‘mythic roles’ – a necessary thing, per the Nandikeśvara and various other such source-material, wherein it is effectively stated that in the more esoteric and powerful ritual sphere one must *be* a Rudra in order to properly *worship* Rudra; we may surmise both due to the terror and potency of the forces bound up in of His engagement and the difficulty of otherwise engaging with Him with an ordinary human mind and its consequential limitations.
Enter the RudraGanika.
And just as Lord Shiva has often been flagrantly misrepresented in both pop-cultural (mis)perceptions and a certain clade of the Western writings upon Him, so too for these figures – Rudra’s Daughters, Rudra’s Girls (RudraKanya – a term utilized synonymically with RudraGanika).
If you were to use the term today, most people would focus in upon the ‘Ganika’. This is partially why, in historic terms, the RudraGanika is often approached as being a ’courtesan’ – or more charitably, a ’dancing girl’. It may be acknowledged that she possesses (indeed, is possessed by) a ritual function. Her mythic and metaphysical relation might be mentioned. Yet fundamentally her context is conditioned via ’Ganika’ – and perceptions dominant at the twilight of the institution, when the British were attempting to attack Hinduism for purported moral degeneracy (manufactured or otherwise) considerably contour our view. She is basically regarded as another species of Devadasi, and Devadasi, too, is reduced down from ‘Temple Dancer’ to something more closely comporting to ‘temple prostitute’.
Sustained academic analysis and primary textual materials have amply demonstrated that the RudraGanikas were something decidedly different than the ’Ganika’ (prostitute) of the popular imagination. We frequently find RudraGanikas placed on a par with Brahmins – not just ”Brahmin ladies”, but male Brahminical temple functionaries; even, in one (arguably hyperbolistic) case (cited in the Uttara Kamika), suggested to be higher than these again. Further, we can absolutely tell that there is quite the distinction between RudraGanikas or Devadasis and prostitutes based around the Prāyaścittasamuccaya’s injunctions on ritual purity. There, it is stated overtly that following a death in her clade, a prostitute does not acquire impurity … as she was not pure to begin with. Meanwhile, for the RudraKanyas or the Devadasis of that period, extended periods of impurity accrue as a result – just as they would for a male temple functionary.
We are not going to examine the historiographical situation of how rather deliberate misperceptions of Hindu temples were fostered during the Colonial era, but instead seek to move to address the admittedly difficult situation viz. ‘Ganika’ – and present an alternate understanding which ought hopefully establish how the conflation has unfortunately occurred.
At the heart of ‘RudraGanika’ is ’Gana’ – grouping. It is a term for a body of people, united by some shared characteristic. Particularly in connection with Rudra, we expect it to entail a troop or a retinue – the shared characteristic being their allegiance and devotion to the Great God at their center. We have already met the BhutaGana (where the ‘unifying characteristic’ is not only their loyalty, but also the fact that they are Ghosts – Bhuts); and the general idea of the ‘Ganas of Shiva’ as His war-host or household linking to quite the diverse array of different such groupings. Indeed, Ganesha, Gana-Esha, and Ganapati, originally occurred in reference to the God as the Lord of such clades – the term having been ‘inherited’ by Ganesha from His Father; although with it also being figuratively understood in its archaic RigVedic occurrence in RV II 23 (dedicated toward Brihaspati, yet providing mantras in-use for Ganesha today), for instance, as presiding over the ‘collections’ of Prayers.
However, ‘Gana’ can also mean a public or a tribe – hence the interpretation for ‘Ganika‘ (‘Of the Gana’) as ‘Public Woman‘, ‘Property of the Gana‘. Yet while this might indeed be plausible for the *general* usage of Ganika (and from memory, we seem to see this in evidence in the Manusmriti etc.), we believe another sense to have been meant for the Ganika of RudraGanika – with the two terms becoming conflated due to homophony, along with the Temple situation of the RudraGanika placing her in a context where outsiders might attempt to conflate her with other figures also occasionally found adjacent to or therein.
Instead, ’RudraGanika’ is likely a feminine / diminunative formulation for ’RudraGana’, in a similar fashion to how Siksa (teacher) becomes Siksika (female teacher), Rsi becomes Rsika, etc.
RudraGanika is, therefore, ’Female Gana of Rudra’. Something which fits far better with various of the aforementioned historical materials which draw quite a distinction between Temple RudraGanikas [and Devadasis] and ’courtesans’ in terms of purity and role, whilst also understandably connecting the RudraGanikas to RudraKanyas (Rudra’s Girls / Daughters of Rudra).
So who are these mysterious (in both this and the more archaic Greek senses of the term) ‘Rudra Women’? Well, in essence, that is *just exactly* whom They are. Rudra Women. Mythic figures who are incarnated here upon this Earth and out here in the ‘sidereal’ sphere as human women. Of ravishing beauty, serious skill in the arts of dance or song, and seemingly also martially proficient as well (as we shall soon see) – if one were to go looking for the Hindu co-expressive of the Valkyries of Odin in Valhalla, then this should surely prove a most admirable place to begin one’s quest. Without, it may be hypothesized, having to die and thusly begin a metempsychotic (or, for that matter, katabatic) journey aforehand.
Yet the reason that I phrase the aforementioned comparanda as I have done is, perhaps, a subtle and ‘masked’ one. I do not simply mean it in the sense of a group of women who dwell within the household of a God, of the aforementioned attributes and devoted to Him.
Rather, I mean it also in the sense that these women – the RudraGanikas – are, via their very existence, bearers of the essence of this supernal group.
Now as we have aforementioned, this notion of human worshippers of the God Shiva (or, for that matter, Dionysus, etc. – we may fairly presume) taking on an ‘essence’ within the course of a rite or an observance – it is uncontroversial. It is not without its risks, especially if improperly or overly-ambitiously done, yet in the sense of ‘stepping into a role’ within the myth and its ritual concordant component … it is something that quite an array of people might have some cause to do over the course of his or their lifetime. The actual ‘bearing of the essence’ (whether it is ‘placed’ into one, or it is there already via some .. weird skein of destiny) is rather more esoteric, and forms a practice more usually encountered within the Tantrika (or, at least, ‘higher level’) Hindu spheres.
In this sense, then, these activities are, for most devotees, a rare and infrequent occurrence if they are directly engaged in at all. They are, we may suggest, part-time ‘weekend warriors’ in these regards. When the rite is complete, and the essence released, they go back (somewhat altered – for that is both point and purpose to these forms of ritual) to their near-fully ‘sidereal’ human existences.
However, for the RudraGanika, the situation of these essences and their engagement is indescribably different. They are her raison d’etre. She exists as an incarnation of these essences, these beings. One of them, in human form.
Indeed, per the later era mythology which established her as a Daughter of Rudra Himself, these mythic roles – they are a tangible restatement to her own mythic-ancestral past. She does not simply opt upon isolated occasion to take up the mythic role within the specific framework of the rite – she is a living embodiment of such as the fact of her essence.
An intriguing potential demonstration of this in practice concerns the well-known myth of the RudraGanika Paravai, bride of the Nayanar Shaivite saint Sundarar. It is a fascinating myth in various of its tellings, which we shall not delve too deeply into here. Suffice to say it has some … resonancies that mean I am saving it for a later culminative engagement.
In any case – both figures (Paravai and Sundarar – also anglicized as Cuntarar) are stated to be on-earth incarnations of particular, specific celestial beings from the Household of Rudra – and therefore, implicitly, living embodiments of figures of myth. This theme shall be returned to when addressing the Valkyrie expression of the RudraGanika typology in the Nordic sphere. The line between ‘Resonancy’ and ‘Reincarnation’ is quite a vague one indeed – and an ‘Eternal Return’ in incarnate form is not merely confined to the realms of ritual. Or, rather, some lives may seem to exist *as* Myths, even out here within this Sidereal plane of ours. But more upon that, perhaps, some other time.
Another demonstration to the RudraGanikas’ embodiment of mythic essence is provided via the necessary conditions identified for the proper initiation of a RudraGanika per the commentary of Sadyojatasivacarya upon the Kamikagama. There, it is stated that of the aspirant she is *only* able to become a RudraGanika if she bears the characteristic to effectively *be* an expression of the Divine Shakti. This is not simply in the sense that all women are said to have some degree of linkage to Shakti – it requires a much more overt, heightened connexion such that she is, effectively, ‘one’ with Her. And thusly, also explicates and justifies their ’marriage threads’ worn in relation to Rudra.
Yet while I have chosen to emphatically emphasize that these women are *living* expressions of the mythic essences in question, and continue to be so even outside the strictly-speaking bounds of ritual (where more ordinary mortals might also so happen to become occasional bearers of an essence from time to time – or, simply, ‘step into a mythic role’ at others and more frequently); it is also instructive to examine one rite in particular as the tangible demonstration of, we might say, ‘Myth In Motion’.
The MrgaYatra – The Agamic Hindu Rite of the Wild Hunt
One of the most evocative illustrations of the RudraGanika as mythic-recurrent is to be found in the documentation detailing the Mrgayatra ritual carried out in the context of the Agamic Mahotsava festival. Performed upon the eighth day of the Mahotsava, the form of Rudra that is invoked is either Tripurantaka (’Destroyer of the Three Forts’ – and importantly, Pashupati) or Kirata (Mountain Barbarian ’Hunter’) – although He may also appear as Bhikshatana (’The Wanderer’).
The Mrgayatra is often thought of as a ’Hunting Expedition’ – indeed, I would slightly figuratively render it as ’Wild Hunt’ (running ‘Mrga’ backwards to its sense of ‘wild’ rather than ‘wild animal’, and ‘yatra’ as an ‘expedition’).
However, it also has a potent martial aspect to it. Shiva is mounted upon horseback, and the coterie of RudraGanikas who ride with Him can include not only the archers one might expect upon a hunt, but women wearing armour and carrying shields, equipped with swords and spears. The spectacle of the God surrounded by His well-armed retinue, martial rhythms beaten out upon the drums as Bull banners flutter behind would certainly put one in the mind of ”an army is setting forth for an invasion”, as Manasataramgini had put it.
This observance is not merely a ceremonial procession in the sense of a modern-day military ‘parade’. Despite its contemporary cousin merely entailing the shooting of a coconut, in older times, the hunt appears to have been a literal one featuring wild animals indeed captured or killed; whilst the martial display also incorporated a mock battle against demons.
Intriguingly, Manasataramgini has also noted mention from the reign of the Vijayanagara ruler Bukkadeva of an attempt by Muslim interlopers to interfere with the Mrgayatra – being met with deadly force by the embodied Retinue of Rudra and killed or driven off in the ensuing combat. Sometimes, it would appear, ‘myth’ takes on a life of its own in terms of ‘filling itself out’ via sidereal participants – witting or otherwise.
In terms of the rite itself, the invocation of Shiva as Tripurantaka here is interesting – as the Shruti establishes that it is this form of Rudra Who is accorded the title of Pashupati; elsewhere linking this with His shooting of Prajapati in Deer (Mrga) form. AV-S X 2 11, meanwhile, invokes alongside Pashupati and His (Hunting) Dogs the Vikesi whom we had met earlier.
Elsewhere in the scriptural canon, we find Rudra in the form of a Kirata – a barbaric mountain hunter – and likewise accompanied by Uma and a legion of women similarly arrayed [MBh 3 39]. These constitute a ‘hunting party’ of sorts – there to slay a demon, Muka, in the form of a most formidable boar. And whilst it is frequently simply taken-as-read that ‘Kirata’ *must* mean those particular Nepali tribesmen, the Kirati – we instead subscribe to quite a different view. At the root of ‘Kirata’ is Sanskrit ‘Kr’ – कॄ . This effectively produces a term for ‘Thrower’, ‘Caster’, ‘Injurer’ – a suite of conceptry quite apt for an archer or a spear-equipped person, especially acting as a Hunter. And one which must fit better – as we have it in quite archaic attestation in the Vedas themselves, describing an evidently near-pan-Indo-European phenomenon rather than one which could only have developed in reasonably direct contact with the realms of eastern Nepal. Effectively, in this way, it is a term somewhat similar to ‘Sarva’ – ‘Archer’, ‘Injurer’, and a well-known Shaivite theonym of demonstrable antiquity given its co-occurrence within the names of the Zoroastrians’ ‘Daevas’.
Clearly, then, in the course of the MrgaYatra the RudraGanikas are embodying their mythic forerunners. Something which, assumedly, they have and had been doing since the approximate time that these Shruti scriptures were first composed to express them with.
The Parodos of the Thiasos
However, this notion of the ‘Wild God’ embarked upon an ‘invasion’ or a ‘trooping’ is not something exclusive to the Hindu sphere. It most definitely expresses itself via occurrence elsewhere – at least, within the realms of the myth, somewhat more haphazardly as applies the attested realms of ritual, due to the fact that no other Indo-European canon has been preserved with anything like the same rigour in that specific regard. Most accountings we have of what appear to be cognate ritual from, say, the Hellenic sphere are eyewitness at best (often simply the aftermath thereof), or heady extrapolations from fictionalized renditions which leave ample room for conjecture and doubt as to specific details.
I can probably do little better than an ‘old master’ of the literary arts, so here’s Nonnus, from his Dionysiaca extolling the grandeur of Dionysus’ assembling war-host:
“These combatants were joined by the Bacchae, some coming from the Meionian rocks, some from the mountain above the precipitous peaks of Sipylos. Nymphs hastened to join the soldiers of the thyrsus, the wild Oreads with hearts of men trailing their long robes. Many a year had they seen roll round the turning-point as they lived out their long lives. Some were the Medlars (Epimelides) who lived on the heights near the shepherds; some were from the woodland glades and the ridges of the wild forest, nymphs (Meliae) of the mountain Ash coeval with their tree. All these pressed onwards together to the fray, some with brassbacked drums, the instruments of Cybelid Rheia, others with overhanging ivy-tendrils wreathed in their hair, or girt with rings of snakes. They carried the sharpened thyrsus which the mad Lydian women then took with them fearless to the Indian War.”
Interestingly, this army is congealed via the summons of Cybele / Rhea – a figure, a Mountain Mother, Who does indeed bear a notable resemblance to our (Hindu) Mother Goddess in various manifest(ed) particulars (c.f various my earlier work including ‘Bharat Mata And The Indo-European Deific Of National Identity’); and, once again, we seem to see almost a deliberate ‘possibility’ that the ‘Lydians’ referred to are not ‘merely’ mythic – but are, rather, human women of that more eastern and ancient land whipped up into a berserk rage by the God.
I choose my words deliberately there – ‘berserk rage’ – as there are certain associations to the Furor exhibited by the Maenads and other exemplars of the Dionysian female frenzy which, upon reading them, reminded me *instantly* of details given in, say, the Ynglinga Saga for Odin’s empowerment of *His* Chosen. To quote therefrom:
“Odin could make his enemies in battle blind, or deaf, or terror-struck, and their weapons so blunt that they could no more but than a willow wand; on the other hand, his men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild bulls, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon themselves. These were called Berserker.”
Now, as it happens, the ensuing descriptions given in Nonnus’ work actually feature various of these women or more-than-mortal-women carrying out *significant* damage to various opposing forces, equipped with … well … not *quite* ‘willow wands’, but certainly not seeming non-lethal simply because their weaponry is not necessarily the conventional martial faire and literally includes ‘wands’ of wood. Indeed, even their bare hands are formidable devices of destruction – directly ripping apart both human foes and creatures otherwise renowned for their strength and durability (in one case, indeed, including a bull). The point is, we have in these Greek texts clear descriptions of slashing and piercing elements somehow mysteriously failing to injure the skin of Dionysus’ Women whilst fire does not seem to burn them, and their Furor-state grants them superhuman strength and ferocity. Even accounting for the likely ‘literary enhancement’ of these traits we should expect to encounter in a poetic source such as Nonnus, it seems both suitably impressive and strikingly resonant conceptry.
Yet we have ‘jumped ahead’ a bit.
The proper term for what is being described here is presumably that which entered in the sub-heading above: Thiasos. Effectively, it means a ‘processional’ or a ‘grouping’ (these days, apparently modern Greek has adapted it to mean ‘theater company’, perhaps rather aptly); and in Ancient Greece it had a few other applications within the religious sphere than the *precise* Thiasos of Dionysus – interestingly, other than the general sense of a religious body, it also accrues when speaking about similar processionals to those around Dionysus … for Poseidon. And, in particular, Poseidon (or Dionysus) engaged in a triumphal (in the old Roman sense, somewhat) marriage march. You can immediately begin to appreciate how this seems to resonate with what we have in India via the Bhole Ki Baraat !
But what does it mean, really?
The etymology has not been precisely pinned down – although the general consensus appears to be that it links to the famed Thyrsus wielded by various of the Thiasos’ participants. This is rather logical – it is certainly the iconic ‘staff of office’ for the true Dionysus devotee of the time; although I am not quite sure that it is the full story. One point which springs to mind is that the weaponized utilization of the Thyrsus should seem to concord with what we see for the Vedic Ganas of Rudra being hailed as bearing piercing weaponry – and the ‘fertility’ (particularly of plants) dimension represented by the pinecone headpiece to the ‘spear’ similarly seems eerily similar to the ‘Ugana’ interpretation that had grown up around the ‘rising up’ (of plants from the soil) in subsequent Hindu scriptural exegesis which had linked such a clade to the SaptaMatrikas etc. So upon that basis, we can certainly sketch out why it might have been reasonable for Thyrsus to, indeed, lie at the root of the Thiasus’ nomenclature. In which case, these *other* utilizations of ‘Thiasos’ for other Gods’ groupings, are either the term becoming applied more broadly to simply mean a religious processional / organization more generally … or, as with the situation of Poseidon, may point back toward a fundamental thematic unity in some sense – even if it is one that had been largely lost to the Greeks themselves by the time they got to writing many things down which have managed to make it to our time.
However, whilst I don’t think that a Thyrsus – Thiasos linkage is, necessarily, inaccurate … I do suspect it to be somewhat incomplete.
Within the coteries of Dionysus’ followers, due prominence must be given to one particular female clade: the Thyiades.
Now these are, as we should perhaps expect by now, something of a ‘liminal’ figure – simultaneously seemingly referred to (for example, in Alcman) in terms that seem to place them amidst Dionysus’ Nymphs (i.e. more-than-human and mythic creatures), whilst also at the same time very definitely existing as ‘sidereal’ human women in other documents. With one of their defining characteristics being their strong association with Dance. Gosh, where have we heard all of THAT before.
The Thyiades are, in various respects, quite a grand fit for our RudraGanika typology – particular because we might also place them as something of a ‘priestess’ clade within the Dionysian coterie. They do not simply dance – they also carry out offerings. We can tell this, in part, because the same pattern we have earlier evinced wherein general traits for the female Ganas of Rudra become ‘focused’ into individual mythic figures or even come to apply to the Consort of the God Herself … the figure of Thyia is quite prominent as the *first* Sacrificer to Dionysus (for whom the later Thyiades are therefore stated by Pausanias to have been named), an apparent lover of Apollo and/or Poseidon (per Pausanias upon the latter score), and with the particular locale bearing her name being a subsequent congregation point for the human women bearing her name as descriptor. Of further interest for our purposes is that the Thyia site appears to bear a prominent altar to the Winds – salient given the strong ‘wind’ associations of various of the Sky Father deific expressions that are pertinent here (including, of course, Rudra and Odin).
Yet this does not tell us too terribly much about what ‘Thyiades’ actually entails.
Instead, for that, we must turn to my favoured field – of mytholinguistics !
The likely root for ‘Thyiades’ is Ancient Greek ‘Thuo’ (θῡ́ω) – which has, as its effective shade of meaning, everything from ‘sacrificing’ through to ‘celebration’ … and, as we should perhaps expect given what sacrificing *actually entails* … setting things on fire, killing, and engagement with religious authorities.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Due to the breadth of its potential associations, it has proven somewhat difficult to pin down whence it came from afore that.
The two major proposals are, perhaps unsurprisingly, closely linked: PIE *dʰewh₂- or *dʰews-
What’s the difference? Well, the former term (*dʰewh₂-) effectively would produce a sense of ‘Smoke’ for the linkage between the PIE and ‘Thuo’ – obvious for the immolation required for the ‘burnt offering’ sacrifice. The latter, however, *could* be thought of as pertaining to the vocalization involved – as the PIE in question, *dʰews-, would link to ‘breath’, and perhaps the ‘hot breath’ of exertion is quite directly salient here. Yet I think that in essence, the likely origin-point for it is somewhere between the two … the ‘Smoking Breath’, as we have earlier observed (see ‘The Mytholinguistics Of The Smoking Breath’) is co-expressed in both directions. The distinction between *dʰewh₂- and *dʰews- is a rather artificial one. As seen with Ancient Greek θῡμός (‘Thumos’) coming from the former (Sanskrit cognate ‘Dhuma’ (‘Smoke’) – which may have rather intriguing bearing when we consider a certain Dhumavati figure amidst the Matrika clade … ) yet bearing a sense of ‘Soul’, ‘Anger’, ‘Desire’, ‘Mind’, that actually reminded me rather overtly of Sanskrit ‘Manyu’, that we shall be (re-)meeting again shortly. This would concord rather well with the potentially homophonic *other* Thuo … which may, in fact, be cognate with our own ‘Furor’, ‘Fury’ (and is certainly, if this is the case, equivalent to the term utilized to translate ‘Erinyes’ in Latin – a point of saliency considering the potential ‘whipping up’, ‘stirring up’ sense to *that* term as well), and most certainly means much the same thing … particularly in swift motion.
The situation of Thyone – perhaps better known as Semele – is also directly salient here … although it is interesting to note that there, as with Dionysus’ Own epithet of Thyoneus, we tend instead to find the rather ‘gentler’ ‘Inspired’, ‘Inspiration’ as the key term for what is being imparted.
So, in other words – attempts to explicate ‘Thyiades’ via recourse to sacral conduct in the sense of setting an offering alight, are only getting a very partial rendition of the picture. What *instead* appears likely (and I do not mean to discount the ‘illumination’ of immolation aspect entirely – certainly, the RudraGanikas are also cited as having a role with the fires for Temple offerings and rites in our Hindu texts), is that the ‘fire’ in question is the ‘spirit’ being ‘whipped up’ – it is the Furor quality of which we have so often spoken. Hence why it is expressed via the ‘Hot Breath’, the steam and visible phenomenon (especially in winter when various of these rites relevant to her were being undertaken) as her soul is in such a heightened state amidst the ecstasy of the dance.
It helps also that there is quite the prominent association *for* that Smoking Breath concept in our Hindu understanding for, of course, Rudra, Vayu Vata, Marut essences.
Yet I said that we should be meeting Sanskrit ‘Manyu’ in short order – and so it now is. I have written quite a number of works which employ this term, and also link it to its Ancient Greek and other, broader IE cognates. The ‘Menos’ of Diomedes and ‘Menis’ of Achilles in the Iliad are great go-to exemplars here – the former is a mental state which is ‘imparted’ into Diomedes by Athena, directly resonating with the ‘Ugra’ (‘Rage’ / ‘Furor’ / ‘Terrifying’ / ‘Large’) investiture for Her Chosen (Kama) carried out by Vak Devi in RV X 125 5; the latter is similar but much more toward the incendiary anger end of the spectrum, than the ‘heightened state of consciousness that also enables more direct communion with the Divine (and/or throwing spears in certain directions pertaining to this … ) that was granted to Diomedes.
Manyu is also the name of the foremost of the Vedic War Gods – entirely uncoincidentally a form of Rudra; and with a birth-mythology given for Him in the Shatapatha Brahmana which, interestingly, directly resonates most strongly with that found for both Zeus and Athena (Minerva) in the Classical comparanda … and also, I suspect (although I have not looked into it in great detail at time of writing) with that of Dionysus. This is as we ought expect. Rudra is Dyaus Pitar, Zeus is … well, Zeus Pater (Dyaus Pitar is a direct linguistic & mythic cognate), and Athena / Minerva (Minerva being from the same root as Manyu – PIE *Men, meaning ‘Mind’, ‘Spirit’, ‘Mental Activity’; whence also ‘Mantra’, etc., as it should so be) has ever been quite strongly concordant with Her Father in key particulars (think – wielding His Thunderbolt, which none other might lift; or wearing the Aegis, and described in quite closely comparative terms in other texts and other regards as well). And Dionysus? Well, again, Masque of the Sky Father.
I shall not expand in any great depth nor detail upon this seeming-coterminity around origination myths here – we shall save that for a future article. But it seems to me quite likely that what is stated in the Shatapatha Brahmana’s accounting of the SataRudriya rite, wherein immediately upon emanation, The Manyu is surrounded by a coterie of Rudras Who make quite the terrifying din around the newly-emanated young God. We see this pattern most definitely play out viz. Dionysus – and we may also see, in the course of the same rite, that invocation of the ‘Spear-wielding’ and ‘Weapons-raised’ female Ganas is included in the step at IX 1 1 21.
The Spirits Of Ash, Milk, & Honey
However, it is my suspicion that some of what is entailed by the many and various ‘Nurses’ of Dionysus is also drawn from this attendant well. Insofar as we find these figures later hailed amidst the Nymphs etc. of Dionysus alongside these other more direct ‘RudraGanika’ style clades. Perhaps the ‘Matrika’ conceptry we have aforementioned has similar genesis – after all, a Mother is, in amidst other characteristics, potentially one who grants milk to a newborn child. And, considering that it seems quite likely that milk played a key role in oblationary libations to the Sky Father deific in ‘post’ form (that which informs the ShivLing of the Hindus, the Irminsul of the Germanics … and we may fairly presume the ‘Phallic’ altars of Dionysus) – perhaps here, too, we find the Priestess typology in esteemed evidence. Offerings of Milk, figuratively referenced, at the time of the God’s unveiling and immanentization out here into this world of ours through the mechanism of the Rites.
This situation becomes even more intriguing considering the import of the Meliae in this regard – at least, certain of them – to the infant Zeus, Whose story (we must more properly say – Whose Myth), after all, that of the infant Dionysus is most closely and self-referentially-intentionally ‘templated’ upon. Melia ( μελίᾱ ) means ‘Spear’ (or Ash tree – from whence the good spears come). Meli ( μέλῐ ), meanwhile, refers to honey. These terms might *seem* simply homophonic – however, it has long been observed that that does not *quite* appear to be the case; with an intriguing coterminity suggesting instead that a coherent underpinning root has flowered into both. My own personal reading upon the situation is that ‘Honey’ has become connected with the Ash. This may logically be connected to the ‘honey-dew’ often observed to accrue on certain species of tree due to insect engagement, however I am not convinced that is necessarily the full story.
Rather, I suspect the coterminity of ‘Melia’ and ‘Meli’ is in part because the deific figure presiding in relation to *both* the Ash *and* the pointedly rather sweet Empowering Elixir is at the center of all of this. We see this with the famed Spear God, Odin … or Rudra … being strongly associated with the Mead of Poetry (Kvasir – That which is Pressed) / Soma (That which is Pressed); and ‘Madhu’ most certainly also accrues as a way to refer to the brew in the Vedas precisely because of its sweetness, honey being very much involved. Another potential support for this should concern the situation of the Ash Tree in Nordic mythology and cosmology – wherein we likewise find an oblation being applied to this Ash by ‘Ash-Nymphs’, with the oblation in question being of a white colouration : and therefore, quite plausibly, resonating with the utilization of Milk (often combined with Honey etc. – when we are making Panchamrut, the ‘Five-[element] Amrit’) which is employed in our Shaivite libations upon the ShivLing (itself, whilst often these days a black lozenge-shaped stone representing Shiva in aniconic form – in more archaic source-material also stated to be correlate and worshipable through the Sthambha [‘Sacrificial Post’] of Vedic times, Trees, etc.].
A potential point for follow-up in these regards might incorporate the later Nordic beliefs in the ‘Askafroa’ [‘Frau of the Ash’], a group of Dryadic style female beings of fearsome disposition pointedly offered oblations on Ash Wednesday in the post-Christianization era. The style of this oblation is recognizable to us – as it is comprised of a pouring of liquid upon the roots of an Ash tree in order to apotropaically satisfy the female guardian spirits of that tree-species. Given that Ash Wednesday has no connection to Ash Tree (the ash in question being a Christian application of the remains of fire to the forehead), we might plausibly ask whether there was some archaic ‘conflation’ which had gone on … one which drew together the imported Christian date of Ash Wednesday, with the situation of the God linked in the similarly imported seven day week to Wednesday (‘Woden’s Day’) Who is most definitely strongly linked to the Ash Tree (c.f. the situation of at least two of the ‘Ansuz’ derived Runes in the Old English rendering – Os and Aesc, as we have detailed elsewhere in reference to the relevant rune-poem). And Who, as we have and yet shall see … most definitely also has quite the coterie of female guardians and retainers.
In the earlier Nordic sphere, the female beings that perform this vital service of oblation for the Axis Mundi are, per the Gylfaginning, Norns. To quote from the text:
“It is further said that these Norns who dwell by the Well of Urdr take water of the well every day, and with it that clay which lies about the well, and sprinkle it over the Ash, to the end that its limbs shall not wither nor rot; for that water is so holy that all things which come there into the well become as white as the film which lies within the egg-shell”
We might ponder whether the underlying etymology for ‘Norn’ – which effectively traces back to a PIE term (*h₁ner-) for ‘Inner’, ‘Under’, ‘Within’ [c.f. Ancient Greek ‘Nerthen’ (νέρθεν), ‘From Under’ (the ‘-then’ (-θεν) being ‘from’)] should prove pertinent. Not to *displace* the conventional understanding of Norn as deriving from, effectively, a term for ‘Northern’ – after all *the* Axis Mundi is likely in the North – but, of course, this notion that the cultic situation ‘at the root’ (both figuratively and mytho-literally) might be thusly located is clearly not exclusive with it being, well, a ‘cultic’ situation. Helpfully, ‘North’ etc. is also from that exact same Proto-Indo-European root.
Perhaps this situation, of a female coterie performing sacred offerings to an embodied form of the God, is what is referenced in that passage of Pausanias which speaks of the worship in the city of Bryseae –
“A temple of Dionysos still survives there with a statue in the open air; only women are allowed to see the statue inside the temple; and all the ceremonies of sacrifice are performed in secret by women.”
[Guide to Greece, 3 20 3, Levi translation]
Yet let us move forward, in earnest.
Theos Manenai – The Mythic Essence, Emplaced
One sense that I have implicitly understood to ‘Manyu’ is that notion of a ‘Spirit’ … which can be placed within one. We would term this, perhaps, a Nyasa (or MahaNyasa) in the relevant and quite advanced Hindu ritualistic frameworks. We have met this concept before.
Yet does it occur in the Ancient Greek?
Here’s our old friend Herodotus to assert just such a thing, it should appear:
“You laugh at us, Scythians, because we play the Bacchant and the God possesses us; but now this deity has possessed your own king, so that he plays the Bacchant and is maddened by the God. If you will not believe me, follow me now and I will show him to you.”
The actual Ancient Greek being deployed there for ‘Maddened by the God’ is, perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘Theos Manenai’. You can immediately perceive the ‘Manyu’ correlate term there [and, for that matter, its relation to ‘Maenad’] … although what is, perhaps, underappreciated is that ‘Theos’, truthfully, means ‘That Which Is Placed’ (it is an ‘odd man out’ in terms of deific referencings in the Indo-European sphere – although there is, from memory, a Sanskrit semi-cognate in such regards). So, phrased another way – the ‘madness’, is the Spirit being ‘placed’ ; the ‘Spirit’ of the God? Or the raising up of the Spirit already present within each and every truly alive human. What’s the difference, some might say. A question for another time.
My effective contention, I suspect, is that the ‘Thiasos’ institution is, itself, one of those ‘Mythic Resonances In Motion’ – wherein the participants, at least in the proper and archaic sense, are very much engaged in the bearing of certain mythic essences. Or, at least, the Furor state comprised of their own *internal* essences becoming quite heartily ‘inspired’ and ‘energized’ to ‘rise up to meet the role’ expected of them. A ‘dramatic company’, indeed.
The fact that this is a quite deliberate ‘Eternal Return’ or ‘Mythic Embodiment’ situation is amply spelled out in the work of Diodorus Siculus –
“Consequently in many Greek cities every other year Bacchic bands of women gather, and it is lawful for the maidens to carry the thyrsus and to join in the frenzied revelry, crying out “Euai!” and honouring the god; while the matrons, forming in groups, offer sacrifices to the god and celebrate his mysteries and, in general, extol with hymns the presence of Dionysus, in this manner acting the part of the Maenads who, as history records, were of old the companions of the god.”
[Oldfather translation, Bibliotheca Historica 4 3 1124]
Indeed, to speak of those ‘Bacchic’ bands – whilst the conventional attempts at etymology often seek to link it to some as-yet unreconstructed archaic particle meaning ‘Berry’ (c.f Latin ‘Bacca’), I am not so convinced.
Instead, I would seek to link it to another Greek term – Iacchus – that is most certainly of a considerable Dionysian saliency. This derives from ἰάχω (Iakho), a term referring to the act of ‘Crying Out’, ‘Screaming’ – a forceful exultation or terrifying roar. Rather like, we may suggest … the ‘Roar’ that is ‘Rudra’ (itself, via PIE *Hrewdh, a ‘Wail’, the ‘Howling of the Storm Wind’), or the ‘Ghosa’ we find attested for the situation of Rudra’s female Ganas as ‘Ghosini’.
The actual PIE etymology is a bit … complex, but appears to link to a certain *(s)weh₂gʰ-. I would query whether this is in fact a close compatriot of the better-attested PIE *wekʷ- – whence our most excellent friend, Vak [Goddess of Speech], Voice, Vox, etc. Certainly, the situation of Sanskrit वग्नु (Vagnu – similarly, a roar or a speaker) being from the former yet sounding rather close to the latter should seem instructive in this regard.
We can be reasonably sure that we are on a rather … useful path in this regard when we consider the hailing for Dionysus found in Orphic Hymnal 30 – Βακχεῖον ἄνακτα. Why is this pertinent? Check the transliteration. ‘Beta’ in Ancient Greek, is often thought of as being a ‘B’ sound. It can be. However, it can *also* be something of a ‘V’ sound. There is some … considerable academic debate as to just how far back that particular kernel goes, and in which dialects of Ancient Greek (strictly speaking, Koine Greek – although it might potentially predate this). We shall not get into the depths of the phonological debate here.
We *shall*, however, note that ‘Vakheion Anakta’, ‘Ruler of Vakkhos’, is a *suspiciously* close coterminate for a term that is most familiar to us in the Hindusphere: Vachaspati. What does this mean? Pati (Lord, but also Husband) of Vak. It occurs in a few (not unrelated) senses in the Sanskrit liturgies. For one thing, it is a way to say ‘Brihaspati’ (‘Lord of the Songs of Prayer’), another form of Rudra – Vak is His Wife (and yes, Vachaspati also occurs in direct appellative application to Rudra elsewhere). For another, it occurs as a term for a ‘Priest’ – a ‘Lord of the Sacred Speech’, indeed. It is, after all, only through Her Blessing that the male whom (or Whom) She Chooses (Kama) is able to carry out their (or Their) most resounding – perforce – performance. ‘Anax’, here, has a different shade of meaning to ‘Pati’ – instead, we may feasibly render it as something approaching ‘Commander’, ‘Director’. Certainly, it is not hard to see how eminently apt that ought be for a Priest (especially if there is a lack of a direct divine personification for the Sacred Speech in question).
In any case, PIE *(s)weh₂gʰ- effectively means a rather penetrating ‘Sound’ – indeed, modern English ‘Sound’ is similarly from this root, as is ‘Swoon’ (although the Old English which more directly underpins this – Swogan – also entails the sense of a rampaging motion, ‘invading’, ‘moving with force’ or violence). We can tell that it is not simply any kind of sound via various of the post-PIE derivatives which have rather pointedly sought to hone in upon a sort of keening cry – Latin Vagio, to refer to a wail, for instance. I would also be tempted to posit a certain ‘resoundingness’ to its characteristic, based around not only the other comparative usages – but also given the seeming resonance between this and other Ancient Greek derivatives with the onomatopoeic employment utilized for the Chorus of Frogs in the course of Aristophanes’ most excellently Dionysian (and Katabatic) play by that same name. Βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ (Brekekeke Koax Koax), indeed. A play wherein we significantly repeatedly encounter the Dionysus engaged in a ‘mysterious’ (in both senses of the term) agon for the purposes of salvation (to the polis), hailed directly as Iakkhos. “Dance On, And We’ll Follow!”
We might also note that the *specific nature* of one of the better-attested ‘cries’ in question – ‘Eis Oros’ – is of further probative value. ‘To the Mountain!’ … or, perhaps more figuratively, ‘Let’s Get High!’ A scenario wherein the situation of a woman becoming a Maenad, a Bacchant, is only possible in the ‘Mountainous’ environment – whilst experiencing in literal and/or metaphorical and/or metaphysical terms, a certain ‘high’-ness. We might certainly link this to the Oreiads … and also those female Kiratas (mountain-dwelling ‘savage’ hunters) encountered alongside Rudra.
After all, as Aristophanes puts it:
“Dionysos, who delightest to mingle with the dear choruses of the Nymphai Oreiai, and who repeatest, while dancing with them, the sacred hymn, Euios, Euios, Euoi! Echo, the Nymphe of Cithaeron, returns thy words, which resound beneath the dark vaults of the thick foliage and in the midst of the rocks of the forest; the ivy enlaces thy brow with its tendrils charged with flowers.”
That ‘Euios’ (εὐαί – ‘Euae’) cry, in case you had been wondering, is effectively a ‘Howl’. Whether ecstatic, or perhaps somewhat otherwise. Goes nicely with the Wolves in that regard. And the prominent Dionysian theonymics ‘Euaster’ and ‘Euios’.
I should note that it is more conventionally regarded as ‘εὐοῖ’ (Euoi), with a potentially folk-etymology of ‘Good Son’ (‘Eu’ and ‘Huios’ respectively); yet whilst ‘Good Son!’ might indeed seem a potential joyous refrain for Dionysian devotees, it nevertheless seems to lack the ‘organic’ nature of the more simple and decidedly onomatopoeic explanation. One which, as it happens, may render this ‘Howl’ a cognate to our modern ‘Ovation’.
So, what does all of this mean ? Well, for a start, it posits yet another point (indeed – full-scale suite) of distinct coterminity between Dionysus and Rudra. This is unsurprising to us. The precise situation of Iacchus viz. Demeter / Persephone (Kore) is also quite an intriguing one – but for another time for us to address in greater depth and discursion.
But more importantly, it links not only the situation of one of these characteristics attested for Rudra’s female Retinue in the Vedas with the ecstatic clade of Dionysus within the realms of the myth … but also the ‘living’, ‘sidereal’ manifestations in both Hindu and Hellenic terms. Those ‘Bacchae’ being, after all, also the mortal women embracing the active pursuits of the God’s dance and song mediated worshipful procession. Handily, for our general conceptry, we also find the ‘Iacchae’ bearing torches – fitting with the potential ‘fire’ saliency for the earlier encountered ‘Thyiades’ in their underlying etymology, as well as the prominent role for the RudraGanikas (and other associated clades) bearing the illumination of held lamps in Hindu temple ceremonies as a matter of duty.
So, given all which we have said, we are therefore unsurprised to find in the course of Strabo, this referenced excerpt from Euripides:
“And in ‘the Palamedes’ the Chorus says, ‘Thysa, daughter of Dionysos, who on Ida rejoices with his dear mother in the Iakkhic revels of tambourines.’”
[Geography 10 3 13, Jones translation]
I reference this here, in no small part due to the mention for Thysa as *daughter* of Dionysus. If we recall the later mythic presentation for the origins of the RudraGanika clade, what we find is that these women are stated to have (as their ancestors, in later ‘sidereal’ manifestations’) status as the Daughters of Rudra.
So, further, from Pausanias –
“Opposite is what is called the Knoll, with a temple of Dionysus of the Knoll, by which is a precinct of the hero who they say guided Dionysus on the way to Sparta. To this hero sacrifices are offered before they are offered to the god by the daughters of Dionysus and the daughters of Leucippus. For the other eleven ladies who are named daughters of Dionysus there is held a footrace; this custom came to Sparta from Delphi.”
[‘Description of Greece’ 3 13 7, Jones translation]
Evidently, this is a case of, in ‘sidereal’ terms, young women being ‘elevated’ to the station of ‘Daughters of Dionysus’ for a particular ritual engagement. We might also be tempted to query the number eleven here – as while it should seem that there are *twelve* in total, eleven in that particular race has an intriguing Roudran resonancy. There are often groupings of Eleven when we are speaking of the Roudran forms and associations.
Now there is, of course, much more which we can – and most certainly should – state about these various clades of female figures in the Retinue of the Roaring One in Greek reckoning. However, we have already spent considerable time amidst the sylvan glades of the Hellenic sphere, and we have many miles yet still to cover amidst less hospitable Northern climes. And so, therefore, we shall attempt to be brief here.
In many of the Greek Hymnals to Dionysus – whether Homeric or Orphic or otherwise – we find quite prominently attested that Dionysus has just such a grouping of Nymphs (and alike feminine cohorts) around Him. They are frequently described as Singing, Dancing, and intriguingly – as having rather remarkable ‘wild’ or ‘lovely’ hair. They are equipped with a weapon which should seem reminiscent of the Spear – at least, it is a long-hafted device with a sharpness to its point
Homeric Hymnal 26, for instance:
“The rich-haired Nymphs received him in their bosoms […]
And the Nymphai followed in his train with him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry.”
Orphic Hymn 53 to Amphietus Bacchus [also numbered 52 in older translations] :
“Khthonion Dionysos, hear my prayer, rise vigilant with Nymphai of lovely hair : great Bakkhos Amphietos, annual God, Who laid asleep in Persephone’s abode, Her sacred seat, didst lull to drowsy rest the rites triennial and the sacred feast; which roused again by Thee, in graceful ring, Thy nurses round Thee mystic anthems sing; when briskly dancing with rejoicing powers, Thou movest in concert with the circling hours.”
Homeric Hymn 1 has Dionysus as “Inspirer of frenzied women” [the word being ‘gynaimanes’ (γυναιμανής in the original text) – and it is rather telling that μαίνομαι (mainomai), the second portion of the word, is so close to Sanskrit मन्यते (‘Manyate’); recall the earlier Maenad / Manyu / PIE *Men typology]; whilst Orphic Hymnal 30 (29 in older translation), depicts Him as “surrounded with Thy choir of nurses fair.” You get the idea.
What we can also say – indeed must make a point of saying – is that the situation of the mortal women who took up their ‘called-to’ roles as Dionysus’ on-earth retinue is quite a fascinating one indeed. It is difficult to get around the fact that for the Ancient Greeks, women were … not in a very ‘liberated’ position shall we say. ‘Liber’, perhaps, pointedly the right term to reference there.
And yet, as others have pointed out – we find something quite remarkable in that passage from Pausanias detailing the cultic performances of the Thyiades across various towns in Greece:
“Homer speaks of the beautiful dancing-floors of Panopeus [in Phokis], I could not understand until I was taught by the women whom the Athenians call Thyiades. The Thyiades are Attic women, who with the Delphian women go to Parnassos every other year and celebrate orgies in honour of Dionysos. It is the custom for these Thyiades to hold dances at places, including Panopeus, along the road from Athens. The epithet Homer applies to Panopeus is thought to refer to the dance of the Thyiades.”
[Pausanias Guide to Greece, 10 4 3, Levi translation]
It is something that seems to be somewhat supported in the commentary of Plutarch, in Moralia, when he discusses a Maenadic procession of Phokis that had in the course of their return from their observances, ‘run out of energy’ upon entering Amphissa.
These are women venturing not just ‘out of doors’, but ‘out of town’, across a not insignificant swathe of territory and ‘along the road’ away from the major polis – without male stewardship, even. Something which, were it not directly attested, one would surely find fantastic and almost unbelievable for the closed and downright chauvinistic paradigm we are presented with of the Classical Greek civilizational ethos. Indeed, one would presume that given the tendency for female roles in public dramas to be given to men – there might be some similar prohibition upon female dancing in public for other spectacles of a religious inclination (for, of course, such was the public drama in ancient Athenian etc. life). Yet again – there we find the exact opposite. Women engaged in public displays of dance in devotion to the God.
Now it is certainly true that in later times, the Bacchic / Dionysian etc. revels *do* appear to have begun more actively incorporating male humans into proceedings. However, that is just the thing – this is a seeming *later* development. One which ought not be read as displacing the more archaic position of Dionysus’ coteries also including in the ‘sidereal’ just as it does in the Mythic, a quite definite cadre of women. It may even be that this ‘loosening’ of strictures concorded with other ‘devolutions’ – to the point that by the high Classical age and the subsequent decline which thence followed, something essential may indeed have been ‘obscured’ in favour of the more public opportunities for a proverbial piss-up. But that is speculation for another time.
Another point which must be made concerns the rather surprising social station of women associated with these ‘Bacchic’ or ‘Pseudo-Bacchic’ clades. J.N. Bremmer’s work in this area makes the insightful observation of a persistent pattern in evidence for the ‘Maenadic’ groupings of women as frequently being ‘upper class’, even ‘aristocratic’ in origination. This is important for us to observe for a few reasons – some of which shall only become apparent later. However, it bears repeating precisely because there is something of a stereotype we often seem to encounter about women in the God’s service being of ‘marginal’ character – and, indeed, in terms of where their cousins in India eventually wound up (effectively, often, amidst the Shudra clades in contemporary perception), always worth revisiting to ‘revaluate’ in light of different contextual eventualization.
Extraordinary Rendition – Specifically, Limb From Limb : Sambhunjati
A final element I shall raise – for now – pertaining to the specifically Dionysian iteration of these female Ganas amidst the Greeks, concerns the situation of the Sparagmos and Omophagia. There are many things which could – and most definitely *should* – be said about these particular (reputed) cultic practices, but for now we shall simply focus in upon some potential Hindu correlated understandings – as handily illuminated via our typology.
The first of these concerns that AtharvaVedic hailing for these female Ganas of Rudra – Sambhunjati. This effectively means ‘They Who Eat (or Enjoy) Together’, translated by Manasataramgini as “[who] devour their targets”. It is not hard to see how the Dionysiac cultic practice of the women in question … eating together (in fittingly gruesome fashion in the legendary presentations of such) might concord with this. Although at the same time, we must emphasize that various of these tellings are likely not quite literal in their impetus – for example, there is some (well-founded) suspicion that the presentation of Bacchic women tearing apart their own infant children was meant as a symbolic register for them deserting their domestic station in order to go and take up station within the retinue of the God. Once strict-literalism is safely placed to one side, we are able to examine in perhaps better depth various of these elements in order to divine something more keeping of their likely true nature. In a similar regard, the Omophagia has been suggested to perhaps instead pertain to the handling of raw meat in order to provide this as sacral offering to the God Himself. This is … unusual in Indo-European terms, where ‘burnt offerings’ are quite often the order of the day – but we see no overt reason for it to be impossible.
A most fascinating potential further correlate may be observed in the Darraðarljóð – the Song (Ljóð) of the Darraðr (Battle-Standard; although also interpreted perhaps non-exclusively, as ‘Web of Arrows / Darts’) found within Burnt Njal’s Saga. There we find twelve Valkyries in blood-spattered assembly, come together in conclave to ‘weave the web of fate’ .. from entrails that, one must presume, they had sourced reasonably ‘freshly’. This concords with perhaps (un)surprising directness with what is stated in Porphyry for the Cave of the Nymphs, in which a congregation of Naiads pointedly stated to be found in the company of the ‘symbols of Bacchus’, engage in “weaving purple webs” comprised of flesh and blood. Something which, again unsurprisingly, they are acting in emulation of Persephone / Proserpine, Who is likewise stated in the same passage to be a weaver of a web (drawing, it would seem, from an Orphic source upon the matter), and this correlated to the night’s sky in an implicit case of ‘above’ and ‘below’. Or, we might suggest : a multi-layered mythic-resonance / recurrence that human woman – engaged in the process of divination or worship – might then also fittingly emulate. But more upon this, perhaps, some other time – and my thanks to O.R. to alerting me to the Porphyrian conceptry.
However, one of the more intriguing Vedic sources we might draw from for our comparanda is AV-S XII 5 48. This is one of two hymnals in quick succession basically setting out what happens to somebody who violates one of the most important suites of ordinances – those governing the treatment of the Mother Cow. Fittingly, what we find in various of the lines involved are Roudran terms – indeed, the preceding hymnal, AV-S XII 4, makes this quite explicit; the second to last line invoking Him rather directly (and His Arrow or Spear) to smite down the evildoer and interloper who would *dare* to try and make off with the Brahmin’s Cow. Meanwhile, in AV-S XII, we again encounter a suite of Roudran conceptry for these Avengers against the maleficarum … although here, it is ‘inferential’ rather than so directly stated.
So, in AV-S XII 5 47, we find the Vulture (stated in the Bhava & Sarva hymnal to Rudra in the preceding AV Mandala to be one of Rudra’s Birds), and in AV-S XII 49, we find the Wolf (again, one of Rudra’s iconic animals – or, even, one of Rudra’s iconic *Forms* and companions). What do we find in the middle? Why, it is the Keshini – that ‘wild-haired’ Women of Rudra clade. And what action do these Keshini undertake? They dance around the pyre into which the reprobate has been placed, beating their chests in such a fashion and making a most terrifying howling wail. I think we have met this before … this notion of wild-haired women who howl, acting in the service of the Great God and dancing as they do so. It is certainly telling that the immediate next line has those *other* Howlers of Rudra, the wolves, directly invoked; and in like fashion, quite a number of lines imminently following depict these Avengers as being engaged in tearing the offender rather directly ‘limb from limb’ (and then some) in a manner that would do the Greek ‘Sparagmos’ conceptry proud !
Most intriguingly, we then have a further suite of references to ‘Avenger’ figures here. I shall not go through all of these at this time, yet there is one in particular who is most directly relevant to our purposes herein. That being the ‘Angirasi’ invoked in line 52. In fact, I shall quote the verse in context (at least, in translation):
“51 Rend, rend to pieces, rend away, destroy, destroy him utterly.
52 Destroy Angirasi! the wretch who robs and wrongs the Brahmans, born.”
And, for ‘variety’:
“51 Cut thou, cut on, cut forth, scorch, burn (kṣā).
52 O daughter of An̄giras, exhaust thou the Brahman-scather, that takes to himself [the cow].”
As I say, we could go into quite some further depth with various of the ensuing lines in this hymnal – and it is intriguing to note that the Cow Herself, implicitly the Devi, is *also* invoked to go and carry out Her most implacable contribution to this ‘extraordinary rendition’ of the maleficant. We might be tempted to infer from this that, once again, it is a case of the Goddess leading and acting as apex for the female retinue in question [the ‘Daughter of Angiras’ perhaps being meant figuratively – a vengeful Devi invoked into our plane by the priest] – or, perhaps, that the Goddess is present and invoked *in* the female retinue-members in question. Either way, there is a clear coterminity at play.
But our purpose here is to draw attention to the ‘Angirasi’ duly mentioned in the Griffith, and directly explicated in the Whitney. ‘Daughter of Angiras’. Why is this significant? Because the earlier (in this text) presented and later (in terms of its actual attestation) understanding for the RudraGanikas in their mythic genesis is that they are supposed to be the daughters of the wives of the prominent Vedic Rsis. It is not at all a stretch to presume that this is where the threads of the RudraGanika in the archaic attestations as these mythic wild-haired women who dance and destroy even with their teeth, talons, and torches … and in the later attestations as the light-bearing, dancing, daughters of Rsika lineage in Temples … may so happen to somewhat converge.
Certainly, we might also detect what may have developed in later (and specifically Tantrika) spheres into the concept that one who violates propriety and breaks the ‘seal’ of the cultic initiation … “becomes food for the Yoginis”.
I would therefore suggest that, in this light, the situations of Sparagmos & Omophagia which we find attested in the mythological (or literary) side of things for the Greeks – wherein somebody seeking to (or having already carried out) grave actions to the displeasure of the God is thusly torn to shreds and devoured by His female furor-infused cohorts … is implicitly referencing the same effective concept. Although, of course, it must be noted that the *other* side to Sparagmos & Omophagia, wherein these may have constituted sacral or initiatory practices *inside* the Dionysian cult, may have quite different potential ambits to them. We shall not delve into those here.
Either way – that succinct Vedic expression, ‘Sambhunjati’, should seem eloquent to encapsulate same.
Apollo Of The Amazons, Artemis Of The Rout
Something which has often fascinated me is the manner in which our work has a certain ‘predictive’ quality to it. A theory, a typology congeals – and then we are able to ‘test’ it, because elements we had not anticipated out there in the various IE textual spheres make themselves known to us, and happen to be *exactly where they should be*. So it is with this situation. I have not overtly highlighted some of the other occurrences – however this one, I feel, does deserve some prominency to it as a more ‘standalone’ encounter.
We have earlier identified a suite of reasonably strong concordances between Vedic Rudra and Hellenic Apollo. This does not vitiate the situation of Rudra, as Dyaus Pitar, being Zeus – nor does it vitiate the situation of Rudra having similar strong concordancy with Dionysus. It is our position that the … intricate interior complexities of the Hellenic sphere (wherein it seems that certain groups continually ‘re-encountered’ versions of their own mythology and put it ‘back together’ in curious fashion – perhaps understandably influenced by influxes of also-Indo-European influence from the Anatolian sphere, etc.) has lead to quite some ‘double-ups’ … instances wherein what would be thought of as different names for the same God in Hindu terms, may have become much more ‘free-standing’ personas in much of the Classical sphere. You can see this as applies Dionysus Himself – and the fact that by the later Classical era, something like three or perhaps even five ‘Dionysus’ deifics were semi-independently recognized (the former, per Diodorus Siculus; the latter, per Cicero – although one of these, Osiris, is non-Indo-European and we do not count), and with decidedly unclear levels of ‘coterminity’ or ‘co-identification’ between these. One good example being the vexed situation of Sabazius – variously stated to be Dionysus, a particular form of Dionysus, or the Father of Dionysus (i.e. Zeus), or a Son of Dionysus. And this is before we get into the ‘Zeus Triophthalmos’ (‘Three-Eyed’) conceptry, wherein we have Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon all as the same deific – or, for that matter, per Heraclitus etc., Dionysus being the same deific as Hades … and so on and so forth.
Framed against this background, the notion that Apollo might, at least in part, be the same deific as Dionysus, ought seem far less controversial. But we shall not get into the various groundings for the identification here – interested parties are invited to examine some of my earlier work from later last year.
The pertinent point for our typology is quite simple. Namely, that of the situation of Rudra as Tripurantaka – the ‘Destroyer of the Three Forts’ hailed in the Vedas and subsequent scripture. We shall, again, not delve too deeply into what is meant by this – but suffice to say that the Shatapatha Brahmana (and other such texts) explicates the theonym in direct relation to Rudra as Pashupati [‘Lord of Animals’], and vitally links this to the situation of Rudra as the Great Archer – slaying a would-be interloper identified with certain stars in the Orion constellation that had sought improper conduct with Rudra’s Wife. We have looked at this somewhat extensively, including the direct linkages with a prominent Apollo myth, in each of ‘Astra – The Star Weapon Of Orion, Ardra, Rudra’ and ‘Of Artemis And Actaeon, The Wolf As Defender Of The Goddess – A Forensic Theology Examination Of A Classical Myth In The Vedas And In The Stars’.
The situation in terms of the myth as it maps to the Hellenic is rather clear. Except one detail does require some further degree of explanation: that of the identity of Rudra’s Wife. One version of the tale has Semele being defended by Zeus against Actaeon’s unwelcome and unwholesome would-be attentions. Actaeon is then ripped apart by hunting-canids, and given the identity of the Cow in Hindu mythic terms as a certain Goddess (per the AtharvaVedic hymnals we have already aforementioned in the previous section) … well, it is not hard to see how this detail then, too, matches up with the attentions of the Roudran ‘avenger’ clades that rend apart the person who would seek to interfere with Her. Another version of the tale has Artemis being defended by Apollo against Orion. Leaving aside my own speculations around Orion’s true nature incorporating *two* figures found in the Hindu perspective (one Orion in some myths appears to take the role of Rudra – the other Orion, in others, that of Prajapati / Brahma. Again, see above for why Greek mythology is rarely … consistent upon certain matters and can easily become quite the patchwork of confusion of identities with time and distance; and see my other works aforementioned for more details upon this precise element in particular), the situation appears a relatively good fit.
To keep things brief, we shall simply take as read that the Vedic statement pertaining to Ambika (more usually encountered as the *Wife* of Rudra) being the *Sister* of Rudra may have some bearing upon the situation. It is likely that ‘Female Counterpart’ is the better, figurative rendering than a literal-biological sister (as, unlike the Zoroastrians, the Vedic Aryas appear to have been very disdainful of actual brother-sister intercourse – as seen in a certain major RV Hymnal where it is presented as decidedly the wrong thing to contemplate); and we have additional evidence we may draw from to further ‘firm up’ the identification. But, again, for another time.
The succinct point is: as Apollo takes on a role that is held by Rudra (Tripurantaka) in the Vedic sphere, and as Tripurantaka is one of the major Forms of Rudra invoked in the MrgaYatra to be accompanied by RudraGanikas … we *should* expect Apollo to, therefore, have a comparable female retinue.
But does He?
The situation of Apollo which we seek to draw attention to, here, is that described in Pausanias – which we shall now quote:
“At Pyrrhichus there is a well in the market-place, considered to be the gift of Silenus. If this were to fail, they would be short of water. The sanctuaries of the Gods, that they have in the country, are of Artemis, called Astrateia, because the Amazons stayed their advance (strateia) here, and an Apollo Amazonius. Both gods are represented by wooden images, said to have been dedicated by the women from Thermodon.”
[Description of Greece, 3 25 3, Jones translation]
Why do we find this remarkable? Well, here we behold a theonymic for Apollo occurring seemingly nowhere else – “Apollo Amazonios”.
What does this mean? Exactly what you think it does. Apollo of the Amazons.
Now, upon the face of it, some might be tempted to take at face value the explanation advanced by Pausanias (or his interlocutors) – that of it having some inferential bearing upon a supposed Amazon incursion stopping here. Except, as Florence Mary Bennett observed more than a century ago in her ‘Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons’ – this makes no sense. There shouldn’t be Amazons in this region as part of a tradition pertaining to the general Amazonian invasion of Attica triggered by Theseus’ abduction of Antiope. This is, after all, Laconic country.
That either means some parallel (and apparently unattested) local tradition of an Amazonian war-host having swept in (and then stopped) as part of the same generalized tradition recorded by the Boeotians … or it means that something else is at play. I suspect it may be the latter, yet with a certain degree of the former ‘in train’ as well.
If we consider the situation which sparked the Amazonian invasion of Attica – it is Theseus absconding with a captured Amazon, Antiope. We meet Theseus with what turns out to be another man’s (indeed, another Male of an altogether different stature) Wife when we consider another figure from the Greek mythos … Dionysus’ Wife, Ariadne. We *also* meet Dionysus in conflict with a certain figure in a manner that features female warriors and the unfortunate death of a prominent woman amidst the God’s closest in the war-effort against Perseus. Given that Perseus is identifiably another facet of the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer deific (as I have discussed elsewhere at some length) – it should therefore come as little surprise for us to find that in other versions of the general clade of mythology under discussion, Hercules / Herakles is also to be found playing a rather prominent (and woman-abducting) role. We may return to consider just what might be meant by all of this at some other point in time.
However, there is no evidence to suggest that that *direct* form of narrative is what is being referenced here. I suggest that the point of direct connexion is to be found elsewhere. Indeed, several sentences earlier in the very same passage. There, we find this settlement of Pyrrhichus to be associated strongly with Silenus. This being Silenus, “The mighty one, the dancer,” [to quote Pausanius quoting Pindar (Schröder translation) via the interpolation of men from Malea], Whom some have suggested seemingly to be the same figure as Pyrrhichus (the eponymous figure to the settlement in question). This is of great interest to us, as Pyrrhikhos is (again, per Pausanias) one of the Kouretes – Whom we have, as you may recall, identified with the Rudras. We are, therefore, entirely unsurprised to find Silenus so prominent in amidst the retinue of Dionysus.
My point is – there is an otherwise unremarked upon crucial (literally ‘foundational’) Dionysian saliency to this locale. And what does a Dionysian saliency seemingly predict? Fearsome women as the God’s followers.
Ah, but *which* Fearsome Women? Surely Maenads are somewhat distinct from Amazons?
And the answer to that is … yes, but also no.
To quote from Seneca’s Oedipus [Miller translation] –
Dionysus wins over through force of arm (as in, the one in particular), as a result of which “those Thermodontian hordes, gave up at length their light arrows, and became maenads.”
This occurs in a passage contextualizing the event with relation to the ‘Gelonians’ (i.e. Scythians – although as ever when dealing with the Classical presentation of Scythians, how ‘literal’ this might be versus ‘mythic’ is another matter) – and, as we can see, Thermodon.
Where had Pausanias said the “women” who had “dedicated” the two murtis at Pyrrhichus hailed from? Thermodon. Where’s Thermodon? Well, that gets a bit .. complicated, but suffice to say that it’s often associated with ‘mountains’ of a rather ‘oriental’ placement (specifically, although not necessarily definitively, in Anatolia and proximate to the Black Sea).
We find an additional mention for Dionysus with an army of Amazons in Diodorus Siculus [Oldfather translation] –
“Now Dionysus, on learning both of the reverses suffered by his father and of the uprising of the Titans against himself, gathered soldiers from Nysa, two hundred of whom were foster-brothers of his and were distinguished for their courage and their loyalty to him; and to these he added from neighbouring peoples both the Libyans and the Amazons, regarding the latter of whom we have already observed that it is reputed that they were distinguished for their courage and first of all campaigned beyond the borders of their country and subdued with arms a large part of the inhabited world. These women, they say, were urged on to the alliance especially by Athena, because their zeal for their ideal of life was like her own, seeing that the Amazons clung tenaciously to manly courage and virginity. The force was divided into two parts, the men having Dionysus as their general and the women being under the command of Athena, and coming with their army upon the Titans they joined battle. The struggle having proved sharp and many having fallen on both sides, Cronus finally was wounded and victory lay with Dionysus, who had distinguished himself in the battle.”
And, later in the same text (this time, detailing the so-called ‘Third’ Dionysus) –
“Imitating the principles of both the others he led an army over all the inhabited world and left behind him not a few pillars to mark the bounds of his campaign; the land he also brought under cultivation by means of the plantings which he made, and he selected women to be his soldiers, as the ancient Dionysus had done in the case of the Amazons.”
As a point of interest, even though Diodorus Siculus *claims* he is discussing events in Libya … we may be reasonably sure that it is our familiar friends, the ‘Scythian’ Amazons who have provided the reference-point – based upon a few factors, not least of which being their apparent mastery of the famed ‘Parthian Shot’.
“For protective devices they used the skins of large snakes, since Libya contains such animals of incredible size, and for offensive weapons, swords and lances; they also used bows and arrows, with which they struck not only when facing the enemy but also when in flight, by shooting backwards at their pursuers with good effect.”
The ‘protective devices’ fashioned from the ‘skins of large serpents’ we might also suggest to be a deliberate emulation of the famed Aegis of Athena – Who, as we have just read, was seemingly rather keen upon commanding these fierce warrior-women in a war-effort against the Titans precisely because She saw something of Herself within them. Evidently also including the fashion-sense. [And, as a brief point upon that, this further reinforces the notion that Diodorus Siculus is referring to the ‘Scythian’ sphere – as one attempted etymology for those famed Sarmatians is, in fact, ‘Saurian’ mediated and refers to the ‘scaled’ quality of their armour or standards. Intriguingly, as fate would have it, much more recent (if questionably founded) linguistic analysis has instead suggested that ‘Sarmatian’ may mean ‘Ruled by Women’ – the prototypical ‘Amazonian’ regime. Indeed, we may be onto something rather interesting if the ‘sarati’ supposedly involved turns out to have some coterminity with the ‘tsarati’ of Sanskrit, meaning ‘hunting’ – although it could simply be the ‘sarati’ that is ‘attack’, ‘storm’, ‘move swiftly’ that ought draw our attention. More upon all of this some other time.]
Those who are well-acquainted with my work and with my general reconstructive theology shall *immediately* see the suite of parallels concordant with the typology we have been developing herein.
Yet let us bring all of this back to that settlement of Pyrrhichus.
As stated, there are two deifics represented there directly – Apollo Amazonios and Artemis Astrateia.
Apollo Amazonios we may reasonably succinctly encapsulate as ‘Apollo of the Amazons’, and presume that it is simply a direct statement of the God having been there with female retinue abundantly in evidence. Mythically speaking, and perhaps in the archaic past, at any rate. One might as well speak of ‘Dionysus of/with the Maenads’, ‘Odin riding with the Valkyries’, or Rudra with His RudraGanikas.
However, Artemis Astrateia presents a more challenging issue in theonymic / epithetic interpretation. For you see, while ‘Strateia’ means something along the lines of ‘Campaign’ or ‘Force’, ‘Military Expedition’ – ‘Astrateia’ would ordinarily mean its opposite. It is a complex term, and its most frequent encounter is people attempting what we might colloquially refer to as ‘draft-dodging’ or ‘desertion’. ‘Opposite-to-Campaigning’, we might succinctly say.
So, how to interpret this here.
Rouche, in his ‘Greek Votive Offerings’, goes for the understandable approach – simply declaring this to be ‘Artemis Of The War Host’. It is a tempting rendering, although I am not so sure upon the face of it.
We would be instead intrigued to consider the idea that ‘Astrateia’ might actually be meant in a sense somewhat similar to its direct reading. Either in terms of ‘causing the enemy to rout’ – or in the sense of hoping that the wrathful horde of women warriors accompanying the God and Goddess might instead turn aside Their anger and be peaceable toward the supplicants. This should concord with the linguistics – and it is perhaps not hard to see how such an interpretation could end up, eventually, informing Pausanias’ otherwise confusing commentary around the Amazonian army being turned back at this point … yet apparently also having erected two Murtis to the Lord and Lady of this Yatra.
In any case, the point is a simple one. What we have here, preserved in Pausanias (and then utilized by me as a springboard to ride across a rather appreciable proportion of the Indo-European world in earnest), is exactly what we ought expect:
Apollo as a Lord of Amazons, Artemis as a Commandant of this clade, and Dionysus linked to the feature as well (viz. this Well integral to the town, even before we get to my broader commentaries from Diodorus Siculus etc.).
Ride of the Valkyries
So, if we have identified that a somewhat iconic feature of the Indo-European deific complex which has informed Rudra, Dionysus, and other related Masques of the Sky Father is that He is accompanied by a retinue of female fighters … there is one figure Whom one almost instantly looks for the presence of. That is Odin, and it is His Gana of Valkyries that are perhaps the best-known expression of this grand clade in the modern Western world today.
Upon the face of it, the typology is well expressed. And we shall detail some of the pointed coterminities which enable us to state such with such confidence momentarily. However it is also abundantly clear that something is missing:
Namely, whilst we are in good stead in the Hindu and Hellenic spheres in showing reasonably directly that human women could and did perform the roles of ‘mythic embodiment’ for the Great God’s retinue down here upon this plane in the ‘Sidereal’ … no *direct* statements to support such can be found within the Nordic / Germanic sphere. Largely, I would surmise, because of the frank paucity in general terms which we are confronted with whenever Nordic religious praxeology is the subject of conversation. A most unfortunate state of affairs – and precisely why the comparative Indo-European mechanism is so determinedly useful for any seeking to more truly resurrect the religious understandings of their Germanic forebears.
However, a lack of *direct* attestation does not mean that there is a similarly corresponding lack of *indirect* attestation. Only that the inferential must be drawn from in the absence of the certain.
But let us turn back to what we *do* know – which is near-exclusively mythological.
The Valkyries are, most certainly, a clade of female figures who are impressively well-armed, and concord with various of the features of the typology that we have set out in the earlier swathes of this text. They also possess an interesting dimension as psychopomp figures that is not quite what we seem to find with other expressions in the other IE spheres, although there are certainly other groupings whom we *could* plausibly link this to: the ‘Varoti’ of the Kalasha spring instantly to mind, with Witzel having produced a reconstructive etymology establishing these as the ‘Vata-Putri’. He assumes, we presume, that the ‘Vata’ in question is the one which means the Atmosphere, the High Realm, the Troposphere where the wind-gusts are of cyclonic force; and with ‘Vata’ as the other part of ‘Vayu-Vata’ so frequently encountered. However, a more intriguing proposition in some regards, may be if it is the *other* Vata in Sanskrit which this might link to – the one that is ‘Furor’, cognate with Latin ‘Vates’, and of course, Nordic ‘Odin’. In truth, especially given the downright homophonic linguistic character of ‘Vata’ and ‘Vata’ in Sanskrit – as well as the strong conceptual association of ‘Wind’ with this investiture of Furor, it could just as well be both.
Those Varoti are not our purpose to extensively chart here, but suffice to say Witzel also makes mention of them in relation to Apsaras (although in other works he seems to suggest that these Varoti are male figures) and directly links their activity in at least one Indian epic to that of the Valkyries in a psychopompic role. He also makes reference of a noteworthy detail in RV III 38 6, wherein in the heavenly realm and in ‘companionship’ it should seem with the Cow and Bull as Mother and Father Goddess (assuming that line 7 follows line 6 rather than relating to other matters), ranks of Gandharvas with “Vayukesan” – ‘Wind[tossed]Hair’ – are encountered. We shall return to this thematic element in due course.
If we accept – as seems entirely plausible – that the Valkyries bear some coterminity with the Wild Hunt, then the situation of Perchta / Holda / Holla in leadership of such should make good sense in light of our general typology. And certainly, the situation of Freyja presiding in Folkvangr ought necessitate Valkyries acting also to distribute worthy souls thereto just as They do for Valhalla. The Wolves, meanwhile, that are spoken of in relation to the Valkyries, appear to be part of a symbolic understanding for the psychopompic role – in just the same manner that Ravens eat of the dead literally, the wolf (especially of fire) devours the corpse upon the cremation pyre. And, handily, we have rather recurrent motifs for the Wolf in relation to various expressions of the Indo-European God in question – Odin, Rudra, Apollo … all of these have Wolf associations. So, too, do we find Swan associations for several of these (as we have detailed elsewhere), meaning it is not to our surprise to find frequent Swan associations (or even, it would appear, forms) for certain Valkyries as well.
As with many things in Nordic – or, for that matter, the broader Indo-European – theology, we are particularly interested in the names which are ascribed to the Valkyries. Names, after all, have power – and ‘nominative determinism’ is indubitably a thing. Even if it may, in fact, be the ‘other way around’ – and the names are descriptive, here, for characteristics to the clade(s) in question. What we submit is that just as we see in the later annals of the Hindu mythic canon, the female Gana of Odin comes to include specific individual figures that bear names which previously ought to have been interpreted as general features of the grouping as a whole. So, as we have seen, Keshini (as a feminine plural) becomes Keshini (a singular feminine figure); the Uganas come to inform seven rather specific Matrikas; and, of course, the Consort of the Sky Father Herself is referred to with nomenclature derived from the clade of female figures She presides over as commandant and archetypal apex above.
At least some of the names of the Valkyries in the Nordic texts which have come down to us do appear to be exactly this. We can tell such because their underlying meanings are functionally (if not necessarily linguistically) correlate with what we have earlier identified in each of the Vedic / Hindu and Greek / Hellenic spheres.
So, for instance, when we encounter quite the array of Valkyrie names built around ‘Geir’ – ‘Spear’ – we are instantly reminded of the ’Vividhyantis’ and ’Uganas’ of the Sri Rudram. When we hear names such as Göll, ostensibly referring to loud sound (or, arguably, Hljóð – ‘Howling’ – although this is a ‘Wish-Maiden’ of Odin’s and may or may not be a ‘Valkyrie’ proper), we are reminded of ‘Ghosini’. And when we encounter Skeggöld / Skeggjöld, we are – as Y.A. pointed out to me – instantly pondering whether this ‘Axe-Age’ named Valkyrie might have some interesting degree of coterminity with Mother Kali, for reasons that ought be rather apocalyptically clear.
However, it is the figure of Kára that I keep coming back to within my mind. Partially, for reasons we shall explore momentarily – but also because of the name. It has been approached in several ways, one of which effectively should produce ‘Strange’ (built around the later Icelandic interpretation for afkárr) or ‘difficult’ (perhaps ‘tempestuous’ of personality) or even ‘prodigious’ (well, ‘impressive’ – afkart would be ‘prodigious’, and ‘af’ as the intensifier upon ‘kar(t)’); but to my mind, it is another Kar which calls to me :
And that, is the interpretation which seeks to connect it to a term for a certain ‘wild’, perhaps rather ‘curly’ hair. Rather like ‘Kesini’ / ‘Vikesi’, if one thinks about it. Or, most certainly, those ‘Wild-Haired’ Nymphs of Dionysus with the tendrils of ivy and/or even snakes seeming almost indistinguishable from same.
Where this becomes distinctly relevant to our typology is that, as we have earlier expressed, we expect these female Ganas to (as with the male ones) express certain traits, characteristics of the Sky Father ‘Masque’ under discussion. So, in this instance, Rudra is Keshin – He is well-noted to have the prominent ‘braided’ or even ‘dreadlocked’ hair. It fulfils an intriguing purpose in the Hindu cosmology as the Vyomakesha – the ‘Heaven-Hair’ which is commensurate with the tendrils of wind up there in the high atmosphere as they whirl with cyclonic force about His mighty head in a manner often compared to a cauldron of serpents. We have earlier connected the Keshin understanding to something found with perhaps surprising prevalence within the Hellenic corpus – each of Poseidon and Hades is referred to with some directness as ‘Kyanokhaitis’. ‘Aides Kyanochaites’ we find in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter; whilst in the Iliad and in the Orphic corpus, Poseidon is similarly hailed – indeed, in the Iliad it seems to occur as a direct theonym on a freestanding basis for Him. Dionysus, meanwhile, receives a slightly altered hailing that is still recognizably the same in its purpose in Homeric Hymn 7 (ἔθειραι, κυάνεαι). And, of course, the quality is well-attested in the archaeological corpus of imagery produced for these three Masques of the same God.
What does this quality pertain to? A certain blue-black hair of curled, tempestuous character – wind-tossed, in the case of Dionysus, with a quality like that of the ocean we may infer for Poseidon, and certainly the handsomely tressed Hades depictions we can think of offhand (at least one of which may, in sculpted form, be Dionysus … potentially non-exclusively) instantly recall this likewise.
Yet how does all of this pertain to Odin?
Otto Höfler prominently ‘unpacked’ the likely meaning of Kár / Kaur / Kárr to refer to that familiar concept – the ‘curled’ lock of hair. And then linked this to the term Odinkar – positing that what was referred to via it was ‘der mit dem Óðinns-Haar’, ‘der mit den (langen?) Óðinns-Locken’. Which, for those of us whose only Germanic tongue is modern English, we can feasibly render as, of course, the one with Odin’s Hair, the Long Locks of Odin – an implicitly curled, flowing mane of hair that most certainly does seem to suggest some coterminity with the handsome hair of the Dionysian, Posedonic, Hadean, and above all .. Roudran .. Forms of the Sky Father aforementioned. Particularly should it turn out that the Óðinkár in question might serve in a similar manner to the ‘Jata’ and ‘Keshin’ for us here in the Hindusphere to denote somebody who is in more than just hairstyle resemblant of the Great God – a Yogi, a Holy Man, that sort of thing. Or, perhaps, a woman embarked upon her Eternal Returning, Mythic Resonance as one of His Higher Harii/Herr .. Her .. ’embodiments’.
So, to speak more directly to the figure in question, then, the Valkyre known as Kára is presumably – as with Keshini in the Hindu reckoning – standing via nomenclature also for a generalized characteristic we might feasibly ascribe to the Valkyrie clade in general terms. Many of them, at any rate. However, she is also of great interest to us for one other reason – that of her relationship with the famed warrior Helgi (in that incarnation, Helgi Haddingjaskati – although more famous as Helgi Hundingsbane). There, she is daughter of a human noble by the name of Halfdan – and yet also a Valkyrie. This continues quite the pattern of her previous incarnations, beginning with Sváfa (Sváva) as daughter of the king Eylimi, Sigrun as daughter of the king Högne, and potentially other figures besides (most prominently that well-storied daughter of king Buðli, Brynhildr – who may or may not be yet another incarnation of this same Valkyric figure). The perhaps surprising (to some readers) apparent occurrence of reincarnation within the Nordic cosmology is a matter we have addressed elsewhere (and goes handily with the occasionally-encountered Greek attestations as to the belief, along with Roman reportings upon the Celts, as suggesting a pervasive Indo-European character to the notion – albeit one which, per Vedic understanding, is a *both* rather than *either* scenario with the more ‘conventional’ afterworld prognosis); however there are three elements of saliency for our typology herein.
First and foremost, this notion of ‘reincarnation’ itself. If we cast our minds back many, many multitudes of words, we may recall the Hindu legend of Paravai and Sundarar, a RudraGanika and Her (Shaivite Sa(i)nt) Brahmin Husband. There, Paravai was a figure within the Roudran household who incarnated down here upon this plane of ours in the ‘Sidereal’ – as did Sundarar – and was recognized (eventually) as bearing the essence of a being from the realm of Myth. This is, in essence, what we behold via the RudraGanika clade – it is just that with Sundarar and Paravai, there are *specific* and identified mythic figures that have been incarnated, rather than a more general understanding of less famed members of the Ganas in question coming here in human form for / as other RudraGanikas.
Phrased more distinctively – I believe that what is being told when we behold these accounts of Valkyries that are also definitely human-born women, the daughters of mortal kings and nobility, is quite similar. They are human women who are nevertheless *more* than ‘just’ human women. They bear the imprintings of essence of the Mythic Realm. Whether in the case of *specific* ‘essences’ such as evidently was suggested to occur via Sváfa, Sigrún, and Kára – or whether it was a more general assumption of ‘Valkyrie essence’ without such a discernibly identifiable pedigree of pre-incarnation(s).
That is to say – we may infer that this is the (admittedly indirect) evidence for a RudraGanika style initiatory grouping of women devoted to Odin, acting as ‘sidereal’ embodiments for the retinue which He has up there in the Heavens and realm of Myth. Not so much as mere ‘actresses’ playing an ersatz role – but, rather, as a ‘bridging point’ between ‘down here’ and ‘up there’. Certainly, in the Saga presentations, these women do not appear to be ‘merely human’ and are presented in fittingly remarkable, genuine terms.
Our second point flows out of the first – noting the aristocratic pedigree for various of the women concerned. This concords rather well with what had been noted in other scholars’ analysis for the ‘seed clades’ of the Dionysian Thyiadic / Maenadic / Bacchic groups of human women – wherein, whilst it does seem that particularly with time, strictures upon joining the Cult of Dionysus may have become quite ‘loose’ ones … in various of the particular specific ‘lineages’ involved, an ‘elite’ origination appears also to have been present.
The third is something else entirely. Namely, a rather under-thought of understanding for the Valkyrie as something remarkably similar in some regards to what we would understand of a Yogini in the (particularly Tantrika) Hindusphere. Sigrdrífa (Brynhildr), in the eponymously named Sigrdrífumál, for example, having been sought out upon a mountain by the protagonist, bestows to Her male interactor a series of metaphysical empowerments. These include the minnisveig (‘Memory-Draught’) immediately prior to her invocation of Gods and forces in a prayer-like formula (which pointedly includes a request for the bestowal of wisdom (mannvit) and speech (mál); and, following Sigurd being confronted with the challenge that he must be, in effect, without fear if he is to marry the Valkyrie – an array of Runic conceptry. This is of particular interest to us given what happens in verse 13-14, wherein it *seems* (at least, according to Bellows’ translation-notes) that somebody has interpolated the verses in question from some other source – as what is detailed there is, by name and deed, *Odin* (Hropt) receiving the Runes via a mechanism that also entails drinking an empowering elixir.
Except with our implicit logic of Ritual as ‘Mythic Resonance’ and ‘Eternal Return’ foremost in mind – it makes another kind of sense entirely. Insofar as, having received the Runes and how to use them from the Valkyrie (Yogini), Sigurd is, as it were, ‘standing in Odin’s place’ during the course of just such a ritualine mythic resonancy, mythic recurrence. The receipt of such mythic empowerment (via an eminently appropriate ‘initiatory lineage’ – Brynhild being one step removed from Odin Himself), the point of contact *with* the Runes as a ‘building-block of creation’ in a similar fashion to Sanskrit’s high mantras and ’empowered elocution’ is, itself, a direct countenancing of the Eternal. And, we may surmise, Brynhildr / Sigrdrífa (‘Victory-Impeller’) is acting in a not entirely dissimilar fashion to Freyja per the Ynglinga Saga when She teaches Odin et co the arts of magic.
If we cast our minds back to what had been said pertaining to the essential characteristic of a RudraGanika being that She is, in a heightened sense, an embodiment (a bearer) and point-of-connectivity-to the Great Shakti – then we may clearly see what is happening.
In the mythic sphere, Devi acts to empower the male She has Chosen (‘Kama’) – we see this both in the more ‘pure’ mythological presentation in the interrelationship of Devi and Shiva, She literally being His Shakti. We also see it, as we have briefly discussed, in RV X 125 5 pertaining also in a more general sense to men rendered as Rsis, Brahmins via the impartment of Her potency (these describe also the ‘mesocosmic’ situation wherein ‘Myth’ emanates out and imparts into the ‘Sidereal’ – ‘mesocosmic’ as it is ‘macrocosm’ interrelating with ‘microcosm’ through the mediation of ritual). And, in the Greek sphere, the situation of Athena relative to Diomedes and Achilles should seem also to have some resonancy with this particular typology (as we have discussed at quite some length elsewhere).
The Tantrika operations I have in mind are those which ‘operationalize’ these Mythic understandings. Therein, the Man becomes as Shiva – the Yogini (and that term is meant deliberately in *both* senses – the human female master practitioner, and also the divine essence that She is / is embodying) is both conduit for and as Devi. Myth is re-enacted, the Eternal is re-engaged with – indeed, actively imparted through the course of same. The patterns are re-immanentized out here into our world via the interrelationship of two beings engaged in a particular context.
We may not have, for instance, a detailed metaphysics for the processes involved extolled in the extant Nordic literature which has come down to us – nor, I suppose, direct attestation in the Sigrdrífumál for some of the features which iconically characterize various Hindu approaches to the activity in question like the raising of whatever a Nordic equivalent to the Kundalini Serpent might so happen to be. Yet it is not necessary. The general patterning is identifiably coterminous – we can be confident that it is the same *general* understanding at play here.
The genius of this approach is that, as we so often find in other Indo-European canons – a myth presents the ‘mythic recurrence’ as unfolding within the mythology. Thus, we have a template to follow (or, at least, to endeavour to generally adhere to – and woe betide those who go ‘off the path’ in certain ways and careen right over the edge of that most mountainous of cliffs … ) – not simply in the sense of emulating the original and ‘entirely divine’ occurrence that informs and underpins the operationalization at its core and root , but rather *also* the ‘secondary’ layer, a sort of ‘para-eternal’, wherein other figures within the realms of the myth act *themselves* to emulate something that has already gone before and thusly benefit from both its patterning – and its power. The multiple, heartily entertwined ‘layerings’ of such things facilitate its potency, its resonancy – and therefore, our ‘active-engagement’ with same. We do not have to ponder whether a particular mythic template is appropriate for our ‘stepping into’ – we *have* the mythic template wherein ‘stepping into’ a higher myth is actually and actively *the myth itself*. And by so engaging in, ourselves, we make it a triplicate. And what is said Thrice – well, it attains the majesty of that most implacable number, too.
To this, we can but (for the moment) add the situation of Kára in Swan form acting to defend Her Chosen male via the active disempowerment of his enemies upon the field of combat. As, in addition to the aforementioned situation of the Swan as one of Rudra’s Birds, and closely symbolically aligned with Eloquence of Speech (in addition to other such values) within the Hindu iconographic reckoning – this notion of the Yogini engaging more *active* undertakings for the lucky male, particularly whilst in flight, is verly closely cognate with what we know from the Hindu perspective. As is the notion of appearing in the form of a wild animal.
We may return to this particular theme at some subsequent point as part of our ‘Western Shakta’ concept. There is doubtless more – much more – to be said here.
But that is, for now, for another time.
Concluding Remarks – The Dance Goes Eternally On
We have covered a phenomenal breadth and depth of material in the above piece. Much of it far less thoroughly than it rightfully deserves. There is certainly both more evidence to be drawn from to further flesh out that which we *have* said – and an incredible array of directions in which one might head if one wished to ‘go further out’ rather than ‘bringing more in’, and more fully explore particular individual areas that we have but briefly touched upon herein. One example might be chasing up the mentions for an Amazonian legion fighting under Dionysus (and/or Apollo – but, then, I repeat myself), and examining whether there could be some parallel structure out there amidst the Iranic sphere Steppes to the east. Certainly, occasional mentions – in *highly* disapproving tones – amidst the Zoroastrian canon for women who seem to have been acting in a manner aligned to their perception of Jahi should prove pertinent. Perhaps those accounts of formations of Shield-maidens – such as those three hundred said to have fought at the Battle of Brávellir under Harald Wartooth of Zealand – might further be of probative value.
We might also enquire of the Celtic sphere, and whether passages such as these in Tacitus’ Annals might have broader linkages that yet-further confirm our general typology:
“On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general’s appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands.”
[XIV 30 , Church & Brodribb translation]
However, ultimately, as interesting and useful as it has always been to be able to set out an ever-greater enumeration of the general expressions of our typology – indeed, to experience the thrill as our theorizing becomes downright ‘predictive’ in its scoping grandeur – it must ever be ‘anchored’ through Purpose. We must know that which we are doing, otherwise we are simply ‘scrapbooking’ our way through the Indo-European past. And the construction of a mere panoply of museum-exhibits is most assuredly not that which we are here to do.
Our efforts are to serve several heavily entertwined purposes. The first one, I believe we have satisfied admirably: we have demonstrated that there is an essence-tial ‘unity’ underpinning many Indo-European religious spheres – both in terms of this specific element we have spent so many thousand words discussing, as well as in more general terms. Indeed, the ‘specific’ *can only* exist due in thanks to the general. There could be no ‘Daughters of the Sky Father’ if there were no Sky Father – and we could not so readily identify Them and He in the absence of the theological structures which have been developed to enable us to inquire of the past and chart out the courses of development in all directions from that semi-mythic Urheimat of yore.
But now it comes time to do something else. Something more … wild, and unconstrained, even as it is – quite literally – contained. ‘Embodied’, we might more truly say.
The point and purpose of the RudraGanika clade is quite a simple one. They are there *because* they are there. They need not have our permission to exist – Myth is a-priori to Sidereal; and They are creatures of Myth Who have deigned to descend and grace us with Their Presences.
The institutions which once gave Them due prominency and saliency in order that They may accomplish Their religious purposes (acting as Praetorian – even Priestly – Cadre to the Emperor of the Worlds) have largely crumbled. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, these have faded out in ‘living culture’ amongst virtually all the Indo-Europeans to one degree or another. And so we find ourselves bereft – unable to recognize, much less revere and renown, those persons who should happen to bear the mythic essence. Indeed, we may not even believe such mythic essence to even be a thing – whether in general terms, or as applies the rather specific sort which should seem to invest and empower the RudraGanika style clade.
Meanwhile, even for the rest of us, we also have a lack of frameworks through and via which, upon a more temporary and ritually-controlled basis, mythic essences and mythic participation or ‘Eternal’ engagement might come to be encountered by most of us out here in amidst the ruins of the modern world. We are Nietzsche’s proverbial ‘mythless man’ – and so we go grubbing about for the simulacra of such conceptry. We play video-games that re-stage the tales of our ancestors as petty pseudo-archaic yet decidedly modern amusements-of-an-afternoon and with various of the ‘uncomfortable’ (indeed, also often the downright ‘meaningful’) details changed upon us (and Them) in earnest and in irrepudible essence alike.
In India, of course, it is different – not perfect, and they (we, if I might be permitted to indulge in the first-person-plural pronoun pertaining to the Hindusphere of which I am a part) have most certainly suffered an incalculable swathe of devastation over the intervening centuries since various of these traditional paradigms were at their height. Yet it is still, unquestionably, the ‘last living’ sphere even in these salient regards – and during the course of our research to put together this piece we most definitely had personal reason to ponder the prospect of having encountered one of Rudra’s Maidens in earnest. Something which, as some rare few interlocutors through and via the realms of books can plainly attest, is an experience both terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Certainly ‘life-infusing’, even if the ability to portray the requisite ‘lightning in the bottle’ in the form of black-letters upon the page is, perhaps, beyond us at this particular point of Time.
Our intent with this piece, then, has – as ever – been to start ‘re-infusing’ out there into this sidereal world of ours, something mythic … something true. So true, in fact, that it simultaneously requires no words at all, and yet an absolute avalanche of them in order to meaningfully explicate. And which, we hope, may be ‘drawn forth’ once more to us precisely through this significant investiture of energy, investigation, and exposition to come out amongst us once again. In earnest.
We believe – that if people know what it is which they are witnessing, then they shall be increasingly able to perceive it once more.
We also believe – that if people know what it is that they are (or have been) *embracing*, then they shall be eagerly keen to come back to that essential connexion in force.
We believe, in short, that by moving to meaningfully explore and understand our Past, we can ensure that it does not have to simply be the Past Only. Indeed, it is Eternal – the Empire of Eternity – And therefore, in the most direct sense possible, above our sidereal conceptions of time.
But how to approach this, this Eternal realm? Well, via necessity, through the prisms of the Past. Although the Past, as we can see viz. elements from the Hindusphere in particular, is never *quite* as far removed nor as far back as one might so happen to think. Indeed, it is often, rather, an ‘adjacent present’ – simply waiting to be properly encountered for those who are truly worthy and of the appropriate disposition. We then ‘bring it out’ further – into ‘our time’, ‘our present’, ‘our future’. We endeavour to erectively immanentize those mythic structures into the sidereal for our future cohabitation. For that is exactly what it always is – *cohabitation* : we live *alongside* the Myths, the Mythic Beings, the Essences – we do not displace them, seek to bring them untowardly under our so-called ‘mastery’.
The RudraGanika conceptual clade is absolutely integral, essential, vital to these efforts. Both because of the demonstrably incredibly strong saliency for such *in* various Indo-European mytho-religious spheres (as we have previously attested above) – yet also precisely because *they* stand at the liminal strip which *renders* the conceptry *mytho-religious* … rather than either ‘merely’ Mythic *or* sidereally, humanly religious.
We seek to Understand, to Encounter, to Engage, to Embody. And thence to Entrench, Emplace, Emblazon, and to Emulate.
What we ultimately seek, I suppose, is to Exist.
Not merely as modern detritus, but in meaningful relationships with the Manifest(ly) Divine.
And so, if this piece has proven to be anything, it is an Invitation.
Come (Re-)Join Us.
Take up your place within the Myth – both once more, and for always.
14 thoughts on “RudraGanika – A Study In Eternal Return As Manifested Through The Sky Father’s Female Retinue Across The Indo-European World”
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