Recently, we had marked MahaShivRatri – the Great Night of Shiva. And therefore, as has become our custom, we present a devotional tribute (A)Arti-cle. An effort that is, at once, intended to explore a facet of Him (as the Hindu Shiva) – and yet also cast a broader illumination upon that same dimension in relation to other expressions of the Indo-European Sky Father deific.
It has tended to be our observation that what might only be fragmentarily or residually attestable within the more westerly (i.e. European) Indo-European pantheonic perspectives can be viewed in much more comprehensive attestation when we take the ‘broad picture’ altogether; and most particularly when we examine the relevant feature in its ‘still-living’ formulation in amidst the voluminous and ancient glories of Lord Shiva.
Thus it was that in 2022, we penned RUDRAGANIKA – looking at the female retinue of the Sky Father (indeed, His Daughters), and Their ‘sidereal’ expression out here amongst us as living ’embodiments of the myth’ in several Indo-European cultures. And in 2021, ‘Tryambaka Triophthalmos Triformis’ – seeking to examine the Three Eyes of the Sky Father and their curious attestation amidst the Greeks via the aforementioned eponymous figure of Zeus.
Before that, there was ‘MahaShivRatri And The Mytholinguistics Of War […] The Mind, The Mania, The Manyu‘; an incredibly broad-ranging piece that analyzed the impartment of ‘Furor’ by the Sky Father, the manifestation of an Avenger/Destroyer Form through His Brow , and salient other details besides (not least of which being the perhaps surprising underlying resonancy to Athena, in comparative Indo-European terms).
And before that, in 2019, there was the first in the series – GHOST DIVISION, aptly subtitled “On The BhutaGana of Mahadev & The Einherjar of Odin“.
For this year’s work, we have chosen to explore the situation of the ‘Serpentine’ Forms of the Sky Father … something that, whilst broadly attested, has hitherto been somewhat lacking in both depth and breadth in terms of sustained theological analysis.
This is partially because many of the mentions we might draw from are just exactly that – mere mentions, and lacking in significant ‘in-culture’ explication as to much more pertaining to the figures than that They are there. At least, in terms of what has managed to come down to us following Christianization in various of these more Westerly Indo-European climes.
A good exemplar for this is provided via the Nordic figure of Odin. There, we have but a single direct attestation – His serpentine shape in a single sentence of the Skaldskaparmal; two more ‘inferential’ appearances, if one takes the co-occurrence of two names of Dragons given in the Grimnismal and two names Odin gives for Himself later in the same work to be … indicative; and another detail connected to the appearance of nobility, and Odin’s own lineage, in the Ragnars saga loðbrókar (inter alia). We can make sense of each of these largely ‘on their own terms’ within the course of the Germanic mythos – yet it indisputably benefits our analysis to be able to draw from the broader Indo-European (and most especially, the Hindu) milieu in order to help to guide and affirm our interpretation thereof.
A similar situation presents itself when we turn to the Hellenic sphere. Therein we are not unfamiliar with ‘Serpentine’ occurrences for Zeus – however actually making sense of these is perhaps rather another matter. Again, if we want to explicate why Zeus is stated to be a Serpent in various of these appearances, we are greatly served by having a broader reference-pool with which to draw upon. We would also note that the situation also applies in reverse, as well – insofar as the situation of ‘Guartdian Serpent’ expressions serve to seemingly confirm something I had hypothesized elsewhere. More upon that in due course. Along with considerations of Zeus (Meilichios, in particular), Athena (‘The Dragoness’ – and yes, She does indeed have place amidst a ‘Sky Father’ suite of analytic expression), and certain other elements alongside.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing of the Indo-European perspectives upon the Sky Father as Serpent (or Dragon) comes to us from the Slavic sphere – via the much-maligned (and frankly, likely much misunderstood) figure of Veles (Velnias). Who is also emblematic of the situation encountered by the Serpent deific forms and deific associates across a number of spheres and perspectives – wherein demonization has been their sad leitmotif in amidst the post-Christianization age. The broadening out and deepening of our understandings for the Sky Father as even having such a typological expression in the rest of the Indo-European mythic-theological expanse should prove vital in helping to rehabilitate His image. But more upon this in due course.
And finally, we have the actual (directly) Shaivite figure(s) – undoubtedly the most prominent of Whom would have to be the famously feared Ahir Budhnya (the “Dragon of the Deep”), although there are also several other figures to be drawn in , as we shall shortly soon see and begin to discover in earnest.
Throughout all of this, we intend not only to bring to light these pervasive serpentine saliencies for the Indo-European Sky Father deific via detailing of various of His mythic occurrences … but also cast a glow over the sustained and for that matter heavily interlinked networks of broader mytho-religious conceptry ‘adjacent’ (yet never truly separate) from He. You’ll see what we mean.
Perhaps it really IS ‘Serpents All The Way Down’.
Part One – Of Grave Wolves And Flashing Eyes : The Odinic Ophidian Observed
As but briefly noted above, the Nordic / Germanic sphere presents a lamentably fine exemplar for the difficulties of our chosen cause.
Herein, we find nary half a handful of attestations of more than probative value for us. Which does not, of course, mean that such perceptions and understandings did not exist during the era within which this was a living religion … only that, as with so much else, much of the pertinent conceptry amidst the Germanic / Nordic sphere is now lost to the ages.
But let us start with a rather indirect element and thence ‘work our way in’ from there.
I – ‘Flashing, His Eyes, The Young Serpent’s Shone’ – On The Dragon-Gazed Lineage of Odin
The Rigsthula describes one of the characteristics to the infant Jarl (that is to say – the archetypal member of the aristocratic caste amidst the Germanics) thusly:
“ötul váru augu sem yrmlingi”
What does this mean?
“Flaring / Piercing / Fierce [‘Ötul’], his eyes [‘Augu’] like [‘Sem’] the young serpent’s [‘Yrmlingi’] [shon].”
It is an epithet well-chosen, for the Gaze of the Dragon is its quite literally defining feature – the word ‘Dragon’ itself is from PIE *derḱ- (‘To See’), via Ancient Greek ‘Derkomai’ (δέρκομαι), a term for ‘Seeing’ and also for a ‘flashing’ illumination.
One might also consider Sanskrit ‘Drish’ (दृश्) to be pertinent here – derived from that same *derk root, it connotes a Seer, one who is wise; and when utilized as a verb, both one that ‘sees’, but also rather more actively than that, one who investigates.
Now this particular association, we hold, goes in two (not entirely un-entertwined) directions. It links to both (human) nobility, and also to the God Who is so closely correlated with same. A God, not to put too fine a point upon it, Who is rather prominently ‘Bale-Eyed’, Himself.
We can tell that we are on rather good grounds as applies this inference based around exactly this pattern of correlation showing up also in the Classical sphere (for example, the recounting in Book VIII of the Iliad of the supremely aristocratic figure of Hector “wearing the stark eyes of a Gorgon, or murderous Ares” [Lattimore translation]; the actual Ancient Greek is ”Γοργοῦς ὄμματ᾽ ἔχων ἠδὲ βροτολοιγοῦ Ἄρηος.”; rendered by Murray perhaps less illustriously as merely “and his eyes were as the eyes of the Gorgon or of Ares, bane of mortals.”) – and we shall cover that in due course.
However, we can also simply take things at ‘face value’ and sourced endogenously to the Germanic corpus. Ragnars Saga Loðbrókar features the eponymous hero declaring his infant son Sigurðr that i) “He will come to be known as the chief scion of Óðinn’s dynasty” (McTurk translation; the original reads “Sá mun Óðins ættar / yfirþáttr vera heitinn”); and ii) this should seem to be attested via the fact that “there is a snake in the eye of him [Sigurðr Fáfnisbani] who caused another [snake, Fáfnir] to die.” (ibid.; “þeim er ormr í auga, / er annan lét svelta.”) The aforementioned Sigurd Dragonslayer being a descendant, via the Völsung dynasty, of Odin; and thus it is interesting indeed that we have this ‘Snake-in-the-Eye’ characteristic identified as a phenotypical ‘house-marking’ of such descent. Various theories have been proposed as to what this might actually have referred to – and we would resile from some of the more ‘literalist’ interpretations of an overt serpent shaped marking within the eye of the child; instead preferring to link it back to that earlier mentioned Rigsthula situation – the ‘Fierce Eyes’ akin to those of a Dragon.
After all, the Eye(s) of Odin are amidst His most defining and recognizable of features. And are also the typological / defining trait – indeed, the outright eponymous one – for the Dragon in Western mythic perception. It only makes sense for such to be an inherited characteristic. Meanwhile, the notion of this linkage between the “snake in the eye” and “caus[ing] another [Dragon] to die” is also of significant saliency to our broader Indo-European situation. Not necessarily in terms of Sigurðr (either the Dragonslayer, or the Dragon-in-Eye descendant of same), but rather to the situation of the Sky Father Himself.
In many IE mythologies, we find a confrontation between a God (oft-wielding Thunder) and a Demon-Dragon. Not the Striker/Thunderer’s deservedly prominent iteration of this – but rather, His Father’s somewhat correlate combat. Think Zeus contra Typhon, for example – or Brihaspati against Vala. Odin’s version of the combat is a rather curious one, as there’s a direct 1:1 correlation of conceptry between the aforementioned circumstance of Brihaspati contra Vala, for Odin in the Ynglinga Saga … minus the fact that the latter text of Sturluson now features no Dragon involved. We have pondered the prospect that Odin against Fenrir may be another expression of the typology, given the Wolf-Serpent coterminity that seems surprisingly prevalent elsewhere … but this is purely speculative upon our part.
Our point here is a simple one – namely, that in these clashes, one might perhaps infer that if the Sky Father is also a Dragon (or, at least, possessed of the proverbial ‘Dragon Gaze’), then it is a circumstance of “Dragon [in-the-Eye or otherwise] causing another dragon to die”. It puts one in the mind of that aphorism full of braggadocio from the perhaps aptly named Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (albeit without taking the sibling relationship quite literally), “danger knows full well / That Caesar is more dangerous than he: / We are two lions litter’d in one day, / And I the elder and more terrible”. This notion of ‘like against like’ in some sense also being the nature of the clash between Odin and Fenris – even though in that case, at least per Sturluson’s retellings, even though Odin be the elder and more terrific, it is not He Who is said to (directly) triumph therein.
To this, we can but add the notation found in the McTurk commentary upon the verse proffered in the ‘Poetry in Fornaldarsögur’ edition. Namely, that the aforesaid situation of the young Sigurðr’s ‘Snake-in-the-Eye’ affirmation potentially “reflects the archaeologically attested practice of placing images of snakes over the eyeholes on masks fitted to helmets of a kind found predominantly in Sweden and dating from the Vendel period (c. 550-800) (Marold 1998a); and that it points to the warlike characteristics of its bearer through its association with Óðinn specifically as a god of war, not least because the adj. ormfránn ‘glittering like a snake’ is applied to the eyes of prominent warriors in Old Norse poetry”.
We would go further by also incorporating the intriguing occurrence in a verse of Kormáks saga [43, Hólmgǫngu-Bersi Véleifsson, Lausavísur 8] – wherein we find ‘Allstyrkr […] Yggr’ [‘Very Strong’ Yggr – ‘Odin’] in the context of the “vallar góins”, that is to say the ‘field of the Serpent’. We would take the ‘Field of the Serpent’, given the context, to be the ‘Battlefield’; the Terrific Lord thereof being a station of Odin … even though in the actual textual occurrence, the second section of the thirteenth chapter of Kormak’s Saga, has this as reference to the figure of Thord, it should seem. I digress.
McTurk then goes on to briefly mention three ‘Serpentine’ names which are also those of Odin – and we shall come to consider those in due course (plus several more which I believe are – at the very least – plausible further expressions of this typology), however that would be jumping ahead a bit.
Instead, I should like to introduce the one actual exemplar for Odin in Serpent Form that has come down to us – drawn from the Skaldskaparmal, as I am sure that many are already aware (and not least because I mentioned it only a few short paragraphs afore).
Now as for why we’re going straight there … the answer is simple: It’s In The Eyes.
II – The Surging Power Of The Dragon’s Force – With Head Uplifted Like A Serpent, Rearing To Strike
We have long observed (and here, I mean this also in reference to the rather lengthy digression discussing and attesting this that I have excised from this point in the piece … ) that there is a pervasive Indo-European typology for both i) the figure empowered by ‘Furor’ to have their eyes described in ‘fiery’, ‘flaring’ terms; and ii) that the Divinity Who presides over such empowering is likewise frequently hailed.
A non-Germanic exemplar for this typology ‘in motion’ is handily provided by Achilles in Book XIX of the Iliad. Athena, the ‘Bright Eyed’ (‘Glaukopis’), to quote the Murray translation, “like a falcon, wide of wing and shrill of voice” appears from the Heavens and bestows upon him the potency borne by the Nectar and Ambrosia … and his eyes, as they say, are lit up, “blazed as it had been a flame of fire”, to quote Murray’s rendition again – with his ‘Menis’ (ref. Sanskrit ‘Manyu’, and also Roman ‘Minerva’, as we have capaciously detailed elsewhere) being quite literally the stuff of legend.
Long-running readers shall spot instantly where I’m going with this. Agni-Rudra, the similarly ‘blazing eyed’, in the Shyena (‘Hawk / Falcon’) Form brings the Soma (‘That Which Is Pressed’); and is also typologically linked to Furor – the aforementioned ‘Manyu’ being both theonymic for Rudra as the foremost of the Vedic War Gods, and also the designation (well, one of them), for such a ‘Furor’ state. ‘Ugra’, likewise, performing ‘double duty’ – and intriguingly, in RV X 125 5, being bestowed by Vak Devi to Her Chosen as what we might term ‘Furor Poeticus’ as well.
All of which brings us to Odin, the ‘Bale-Eyed’ (‘Báleygr’ – ‘Bál’ being quite directly ‘Fire’, and ‘Eygr’ assumedly needing little introduction … as it’s directly and quite overtly related to ‘Eye’), brings the Empowering Elixir (Kvasir (‘That Which Is Pressed’), the Mead of Poetry), and does so in Eagle Form.
Oh, and did we mention that Athena is, canonically speaking, also (elsewhere) a Dragon? Goes rather handily with the Draconic Forms for Rudra (that we shall be encountering in greater depth in due course) … and that Serpentine shape worn by Odin during the course of the Mead of Poetry’s obtaining, as well.
Speaking of Serpentine shapes for the Furor’s active expressor – this typological association for the Serpent or Dragon and Furor is directly attested within the Vedas Themselves. RV I 64, a Hymnal for the Maruts – the ‘Marya(s) of Rudra’ [RV I 64 2; and ‘Marya’ [c.f., per some reconstructions of etymology, ‘Mars’, ‘Martial’] is a term we shall not delve into herein – suffice to say that ‘Youths’ doesn’t quite capture it, and we hold Sayana’s suggestion viz. ‘Mortals of’, and therefore ‘Sons of’ to be not entirely incorrect, yet nevertheless apt for the wrong reasons; ‘Glory-Seeking Young Warriors’ is perhaps close enough], the ‘Young Rudras’ [RV I 64 3] – has Them hailed via the splendorous epithet ‘śavasāhimanyavaḥ’. What does this term mean?
‘Śavas’ ( शवस् ) is a term for Strength, Power, Might, ‘Heroic Valour’, ‘Superiority’, etc. (and, interestingly, is from both the same root as ‘Shiva’ [viz. ‘śvi’ ( श्वि ) – ‘to grow’, ‘to thrive’, ‘to prosper’, ‘to be “puffed up” with pride’; and c.f. its Hellenic cognate, ‘Kurios’ ( κύριος ), for ‘Lord(ship’, ‘Authority’], as well as being a homophone for that other saliently Shaivite term, Śavas ( शवस् again) as in ‘Corpse’); yet Śavas does not intend to imply these simply as an abstract, ‘static’ quality. Rather, it suggests the ‘surging with / surging forth’ of such, the active and tangibly visible ‘increase’ – in a word, the swelling with such potency [c.f. Sanskrit ‘śváyati’ ( श्वयति ), which more directly means just exactly that].
As a point of interest, it’s used in such a fashion in RV VI 43 4. There we find what is often translated as the ‘Might of Maghavan’ (i.e. Indra) [which Jamison / Brereton … curiously translate as “the capacity for generosity”, presuming, it would seem, a rather different sense for the ‘Potency’ and ‘Capability’ of ‘Magha-‘ – and inferentially approaching it from a different ‘angle’ upon Lordship] – is, rather fittingly, as Sayana summarizes it, ‘māghonam śavas’. An ‘Increasing Power’ rather than simply the ‘Power of the Powerful’. As, after all, that is what occurs when one imbibes the elixir in question – in figurative terms, think of the familiar illustration of the Gaulish hero Asterix when he drinks his magic potion. The power surges, rears up. Perhaps the eyes also ‘flare’ (and we are reminded of that particular detail for Striker/Thunderer deifics such as Thor in the Husdrapa or the Armenian Vahagn ( c.f. ‘Vritraghni’ / ‘Vritrahan’ – ‘Slayer of Vritra’) in the ‘History of the Armenians’ of Moses of Chorene, in both cases immediately prior to Their fighting demon-dragons … if the Empowering Elixir makes one as a Dragon in some qualities, then we might perhaps think of this in some way as ‘Sending a Dragon to Combat a Dragon’).
It should prove most intriguing to contemplate that enigmatic identity underpinning the ‘Prdakusanur’ occurrent in RV VIII 17 15 in such a light. Some take it as the name of the Priest officiating – Who then ‘leads’ Indra to the rite and the imbibing. Others view it in somewhat different terms – Lubotsky notes the association of the ‘Prdaku’ with Varuna (in the West) in the lists of the Six Serpentine Guardian-forms of the Directions found in both major Atharvanic recensions (Paippalāda and Śaunakīya), as well as the Maitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā (although as he notes, in the Taittiriya Samhita, it is Indra (in the South) thusly linked – and Varuna there has the Tiraścirāji that is otherwise Indra’s), as part of an effort to make it out to be Varuna wearing a Panther-skin (Prdaku, after all, can also mean ‘Panther’), assumedly then ‘leading’ Indra.
We might feasibly contemplate whether Soma (the Deva) is meant (Grassman’s objection to this on the grounds that ‘Soma’ is directly spoken of by such direct name in the final part of the second half to the verse seems rather artificial). And Sayana advances the innovatively logical understanding that Prdakusanu in fact refers to the posture adopted by Lord Indra Himself – “Head uplifted like a Serpent”, to quote Horace Hayman Wilson’s translation to the verse; this also referring to the manner of the offering thusly required : reverently, certainly, but also (we would infer) with proper caution and deference, as one would when treating with a Dragon. He would also then seem to link the next half of the verse, concerning a “rapid seizure” (to again, quote the H.H. Wilson rendition) to this same ‘Serpentine’ evocative conceptual illustration – perhaps in the manner of a snake swiftly lunging out with its head and neck to take prey.
If Sayana is correct – then we have, it should seem, another exemplar for the imbiber of the Elixir being presented in Serpentine terms. If Lubotsky is (partially) correct – then we would instead have another Sky Father expression (Varuna) hailed in (potentially) Serpentine regalia [‘Serpent-Crested’, indeed – although Lubotsky’s interpretation for ‘-sanu’ is that it ought mean ‘back’ as in ‘[upon His] back’]; rather than something akin to ‘Peak’, or ‘Precipice’, or a Wise Man]. If it is Soma, then Soma is Serpentine. If it is the Priest, then it is most interesting that we should have the Priest as Human Custodian hailed in such terms. Whatever the truth of just Who is meant – it is most certainly a powerful image. But we digress.
To return to ‘Shavasaahimanyavah’ – the next two elements to it are by now eminently familiar ones. ‘Ahi’, as in ‘Serpent’, ‘Dragon’; and ‘Manyu’, as in ‘Furor’. So, this quality of the Maruts, śavasāhimanyavaḥ, refers to the ‘Surging Fury of the Serpent’, or the ‘Power of the Dragon’s Fury’. And it is ascribed to those justly-famed Sons of the Sky Father, the Maruts, hailed as Rudras. With the entitling to it again resonating most strongly with the relevant Divine – not just in terms of the aptly Roudran theonymic (and strongly associated quality of) ‘Manyu’ (c.f. its Italic cognate, ‘Minerva’), but also that ‘Ahi’ element, as well.
Perhaps all of this aids in explicating the remark of Artemidorus in his Oneirocritica [IV 79, Harris-McCoy translation] that “Serpents that change into men signify Heroes and those that change into women signify Heroines”.
The situation of the Empowering Elixir, we may succinctly surmise as an impartment to the chosen recipient of a ‘Divine Essence’ or ‘Divine Energy’ which renders the mortal more like the bestowing Divinity – whether in metaphysical terms with regard to their competencies and characteristics (a great facility with the sacred speech, for example; an invulnerability and indefatigability in combat; a ‘raging’ state of being; a ‘Divine Sight’, piercing through illusions and granting wisdom amidst insight, you get the idea) … and not (necessarily) all that removed from certain other vectors for such divine empowerment – most pointedly and prominently, the ‘Ergreifen’ style situation viz. Odin that, in Sanskrit, we should refer to more properly as ‘Amsha’ , and occurrent with particular relation to Rudra (a devotee in such a state becoming as Rudra, per our theological / metaphysical perspective).
And that just as this ‘inner’ essence impartment is expressed via such ‘resonancy’ of that dimension … so, too, do we find ‘exterior’ descriptors ‘lining up’ alikewise. That is to say – the human who comes to imbibe the elixir being described in terms that are iconographically (or otherwise) keyed to the Deity Who has bestowed the empowerment.
And given the strong role for particular ‘Serpentine’ Aspects, Forms, or symbolic presentations for the God(s) in question as applies the production, ’embodying’ or obtaining of said Empowering Elixir – it makes similar sense that ‘Serpentine’ characteristics ought be referenced when describing the effects of it within its imbiber. Doubly so when we consider that various of those characteristics eagerly anticipated by the drinker (the longevity, wisdom, insight, potency, power, force) are pointedly those that are also frequently encountered affixed to Dragons as well.
The situation of the Eyes of Fire is, therefore, exactly as we should anticipate – indeed, it is downright mytho-logical.
Dragons, after all, in Greek (and broader Classical) as well as Nordic / Germanic myth and metaphysics being quite prominently known for their ‘Flaring’, ‘Fiery’ oculars.
Indeed, Ovid’s Metamorphoses [III, 32-33] describes the Serpent of Mars [‘Martius anguis’] as having Eyes which “flashed Fire” [Melville translation; ‘igne micant oculi’ being the original Latin]. And we mention that particular text and mythic occurrence because, of course, this is the dragon so prominently encountered by Cadmus (thus enabling water to be gathered for a rite, from the spring guarded by same) … and which provides the famed ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ that Athena (Pallas, in the Latin text) then instructs the hero to sow into the ground. “Why gaze, son of Agenor, at the serpent you have killed? You too shall be a serpent to be gazed on,” quoth the Goddess [per the Kline translation].
From such Divinely directed dirt-and-dental-draconic intermingling comes a most remarkable crop – a full troupe of armed men grown up from the soil like seeds. They would, of course, be armed men – this was Ares’ dragon, after all, which the teeth had come from; and even to this day we speak of the ‘blades of grass’, ‘shoots’ of new growth, etc. These are the ‘Spartoi’ – the name communicating exactly how they had come to be in the first place, via ‘sowing’.
This is the effective ethnogenesis of the polis and the people of Thebes (or, at least, the survivors of the scenario are to be) – and speaks toward the prominent role of the Serpent in such occurrences (we shall be taking a closer look at this in the Greek portion of this work with especial regard for Athens); yet it is not why I have felt it pertinent to highlight here.
Instead, it is a curious detail recounted in several of the Greek perspectives upon the issue.
Pseudo-Apollodorus phrases it thus: ” Pherecydes says that when Cadmus saw armed men growing up out of the ground, he flung stones at them, and they, supposing that they were being pelted by each other, came to blows.” [ Bibliotheca, III 4, Frazer translation]
Nonnus, whilst (as with Apollonius of Rhodes) having ‘giants’ rather than ‘men’ spring up from the Teeth’s planting (assumedly, the tale ‘grew’ in the telling … ), nevertheless provides a vital service through his highlighting for the integral role of Athena in this gambit and phase of proceedings –
“Then by the wise counsel of Pallas he lifted a stone high above the giants’ heads; and they drunken with gory lust for Enyo [‘Warfare’], went wild with warlike fury and destroyed each other with the steel of their cousin, and found burial in the dust. One fought with another: with ruddy gore the surface of the shield was drenched and spotted and darkened, as a giant died; the crop of that field was shorn by the brother-murdering blade of an earthgrown knife.”
[Dionysiaca, IV 455 onward, Royce translation]
Meanwhile, Pseudo-Apollodorus (again), Apollonius Rhodius, and Pseudo-Hyginus all attest a strongly resemblant set of circumstances for the hero Jason (indeed, Pseudo-Apollodorus and Apollonius of Rhodes both directly state that the Dragon’s Teeth involved are quite literally the same ones – or, at least, from the same specific draconic maw – as those sown by Cadmus; although Pseudo-Hyginus’ version of Cadmus’ deed has the rock being deployed per Minerva’s direction against the dragon rather than the Spartoi). Albeit with the rather interesting difference that they present the sorcerously skilled (and similarly draconically linked – most clearly via the pair which pulled her chariot) figure of Medea as furnishing Jason with the life-saving guidance on how to deal with his sudden gardening problems.
Pseudo-Hyginus goes an intriguing step further in his Fabulae’s recounting of events – Jason’s aid from Medea being the result of Juno (Hera) seeking to ensure the hero’s safety and success in this endeavour. This, She had undertaken to uphold due to a previous positive encounter wherein he and he alone had assisted a disguised Juno (Who had taken the form of an old woman needing assistance to cross a river, in order to test the virtue of men). And so it was that She enlisted Venus (Aphrodite) to ‘arrange’ for Medea to wish to provide the requisite immediate aid and guidance to Jason … by falling in love with him accordingly.
Apollonius Rhodius takes things further again – having both Hera and Athena involved in ensuring the requisite aid to Jason (Medea-ted via Aphrodite, as above – intriguingly, with Jason described as being akin to Sirius in his approach to the woman … I say “intriguingly” due to the astro-mythic concordance of the asterism with Rudra and other Sky Father deific expressions, as we have covered extensively elsewhere ; we would presume that certain other astrological keyings in the text might also be ‘hiding[-in-plain-sight]’ pertinent mythic details or ritual relevancies ) … and Hera even sending a Crow (λακέρυζαι […] κορῶναι – that is to say, a ‘Cawing’ Crow, in amidst such a Murder) as emissary to directly counsel the lad. Evidently, She had been taking notes from Her Husband – we are reminded of not only Rudra’s and Odin’s (and, for that matter, in prior eras, Athena’s) prominent linkage with the Corvids, but also of Odin’s [we may infer] sending of a similarly harsh-voiced Crow (Kráka) to guide the young Kon to war (and, we presume, his destiny of rulership) in the course of the Rigsthula.
Apollonius also reports Jason to have carried out (per Medea’s instruction) propitiation of Hekate (including via libation of honey – there is also mention of milk being brought for the offering earlier in the passage) in order to secure a potency of invulnerability in the testing strife to come with his dragon-descended (and fire-breathing .. bovine) foes. It would be tempting to ponder whether we might sensibly connect this to the aforementioned circumstances viz. Soma, Nectar and Ambrosia, etc. as a mythologized and half-forgotten (or, if one prefers – ‘half-hidden’) occurrence of a Hellenic (or, at least, whichever relevant local archaic Indo-European cultural) cognate for the relevant rites of Empowering Elixir production / obtainance. Certainly, a Goddess is most vitally engaged in both Vedic and Eddic spheres where such is to be produced – and with ‘Serpentine’ associations also spoken of as applies the actual conveyance [‘transformation’?] of the mystical essence as to the brew. But more upon that in due course.
III – The Sacral Rite Of The Serpentine Elixir – And Its Illuminating Empowerment
Now at this point the eminently patient reader might fairly wonder aloud the question – why, in the section of our work purportedly pertaining to Nordic IE conceptry, have I been going on at such length about this incidence from the Classical milieu?
And the answer to that is quite a simple one.
Because the Skaldskaparmal does.
Don’t believe me?
Take a look at this (brief) excerpt from the work in question:
“How Óðinn got access to the mead
Bragi answered: “That tale runs thus: Odin departed from home and came to a certain place where nine thralls were mowing hay. He asked if they desired him to whet their scythes, and they assented. Then he took a hone from his belt and whetted the scythes; it seemed to them that the scythes cut better by far, and they asked that the hone be sold them. But he put such a value on it that whoso desired to buy must give a considerable price: nonetheless all said that they would agree, and prayed him to sell it to them. He cast the hone up into the air; but since all wished to lay their hands on it, they became so intermingled with one another that each struck with his scythe against the other’s neck.
Odin sought a night’s lodging with the giant who is called Baugi, Suttungr’s brother. Baugi bewailed his husbandry, saying that his nine thralls had killed one another, and declared that he had no hope of workmen. Odin called himself Bölverkr in Baugi’s presence; he offered to undertake nine men’s work for Baugi, and demanded for his wages one drink of Suttungr’s Mead. During the summer Bölverkr accomplished nine men’s work for Baugi […]”
Now clearly, the parallels are not exact. This is from the prose sections of that particular work of Sturluson’s, after all – a swathe that is, in other words, prepared post-Christianization by some decades and ‘re-telling’ conceptry in fashions that serve a purpose (in this case, a literary ‘framing device’ of sorts) … but with quite some scope for both editorialization by the author, and simple informational loss or distortion even before the elements in question had made their way thereto.
That said, it remains remarkable just what we can identify immediate and clear ‘resonant’ parallels for in the directly attested scriptural spheres of other IE cultures for various elements contained within these sections. I have already briefly pointed out that a subsequent detail in the Skaldskaparmal’s presentation of the Myth of the Mead – the situation of Odin in Eagle form bearing it to its destination – closely aligns with the Vedic perspective here (viz. Agni-Rudra in the Shyena (Falcon / Hawk) form carrying out the same operation); not only in the ‘mythic’ presentation of such, but also as ‘operationalized’ within the ritualine canons as well. And it is not the only such detail – we have covered in previous work an array of other such elements that again closely concord between Sturluson’s accounting and the authentic (and much older) Vaidika explications. [I say with such emphasis that the Vedic accounts are “much older” not to try and proclaim the superiority of my own ‘home’ IE religious sphere as the result of this … but rather because it continues to amaze me that the Nordic sphere managed to keep things so ‘recognizable’ even over a span of multiple millennia and a wholesale change in public / major religion. The fact that the Vedic attestations are so much older is in large measure how we can demonstrate this rather remarkable consistency over the ages for the Eddic.]
So when we encounter these Classical tellings wherein Cadmus – or Jason – throws a stone in order to induce a coterie of men to kill each other … we sit up and take notice. And when it becomes apparent that this is only one of an extended series of seeming “coincidental” coterminities between these Classical narratives, upon the one hand, and the Nordic accounting, upon the other … well, we become intrigued. Not least because of the prospect that a now-lost ritualine understanding is responsible for these parallels – after all, that’s exactly what we find within the Vedic sphere (albeit, sans the “now-lost” bit, for the most part) as the tangible expression of the mythology; and ongoing ritualistic (re-)performance is certainly a pretty logical hypothesis as to how and why narrative details could remain so pointedly consistent on certain elements even over a span of millennia (only beginning to seriously shift once , for obvious reasons viz. Iceland , once this could no longer be much of a thing).
In any case, I am now going to – for the second time – exercise considerable restraint and not digress further down a side-track of a more full-scale comparative analysis of the myths of Cadmus and Odin-as-Bölverkr herein. We shall save that for a future piece.
And bring things back to that which ostensibly interests us here – namely, ‘What Happened Next’ in the Skaldskaparmal accounting.
“Then Bölverkr made suggestion to Baugi that they try certain wiles, if perchance they might find means to get at the mead; and Baugi agreed readily. Thereupon Bölverkr drew out the auger called Rati, saying that Baugi must bore the rock, if the auger cut. He did so. At last Baugi said that the rock was bored through, but Bölverkr blew into the auger-hole, and the chips flew up at him. Then he discovered that Baugi would have deceived him, and he bade him bore through the rock. Baugi bored anew; and when Bölverkr blew a second time, then the chips were blown in by the blast. Then Bölverkr turned himself into a serpent and crawled into the auger-hole, but Baugi thrust at him from behind with the auger and missed him. Bölverkr proceeded to the place where Gunnlöd was, and lay with her three nights; and then she gave him leave to drink three draughts of the mead.”
Now, straightaway you begin to see why I feel that there’s a ritualistic understanding effectively underpinning what’s being portrayed here.
The situation of drilling and then blowing into the hole fair-instantly reminds us of the Vedic Fire Drill. And while one might perhaps object that in this instance, the drilling in question is being done into rock rather than wood … we can already demonstrate that the ‘surface level’ reading of the Skaldskaparmal’s presentation of conceptry is ‘blurring’ things.
As an example – the rock that is being drilled into, it is the holdfast of the Hnitbjörg. Which is generally regarded as being some sort of magical mountain which opens and closes , in no small part due to the meaning of ‘Hnitbjörg’ as ‘Clashing Rock(s)’ – and the fact that something incredibly precious is ‘stored’ there within. And yet … in the Vedic ritual conceptry we have the ‘Press-Stones’ (‘Clashing Rocks’, indeed … ) – within which one does indeed find the Soma (‘That Which Is Pressed’ – just as ‘Kvasir’ effectively renders as).
So, to phrase it more simply – what is understood in the Vedic perspective (because, in part, we actually have the relevant ritual manuals … and we’re not restricted to the near-single account of a man writing down half-heard details in entirely ‘narrativized’ format some decades post-Christianization) to be a ritual instrument, element, and attendant operation … in the Eddic contribution of Sturluson has instead become a location. One wherein the Empowering Elixir can indeed be found – but only by Odin venturing within there as if it were a fortress and obtaining the acquiescence of its guardian Goddess.
Approached with this in mind, it should seem logical to suggest that various other pertinent steps, stages, and similar ritualistic conceptry have all been ‘telescoped’ or simply ‘rolled together’ if not outright omitted. And that instead of a drill boring into the rock of a mountain-wall so that the Elixir might be obtained … what may have originally been intended would be a drill boring into wood so as to bring about ignition of the ritualistic Fire which enables the ornate Rite to actually take place. And thereby obtain the aforementioned Elixir.
We can suggest this, in no small part, because whichever conceptual framework is being utilized – there’s one rather glaring point of coterminity … namely, that a certain (male) deity has to be invested into proceedings, as what we might term a ‘bearer’ (or ‘conveyor’) of the requisite ‘essence’. Agni is the obvious typological exemplar. He acts as ‘conduit’ from (and to) the supernal – hence why offerings are made into the Fire in order to get to the Gods [and c.f., in that richly resonant light the conceptry outlined in SBr VII 25-30, wherein Agni is mentioned alongside the ‘Sarpanama’ (the ‘Serpent-Named’) invocations , via which the ritualist is to be able to ‘bend’ the Worlds (perhaps also to ‘bring closer’ ? ) to facilitate his metaphysical operations] . Soma, we might suggest, is similar ‘going the other way’. The ’empowering essence’ that is the vital component to the Empowering Elixir (Soma / Kvasir, etc.) being brought down and imparted into the brew via this deific facing (Who is also the Quality … you get the idea).
Now, presuming that I am right about this ‘telescoping’ … what we therefore have is a scenario wherein Odin in Serpentine Form may be effectively representing both of these concepts at once. At least, to a certain degree. I say this as Soma is, effectively, ‘That Which Is Pressed’ between the Press Stones (Hnitbjorg) – and therefore which Odin has gotten between / into as the Serpent [and we have an array of Vedic attestations for Soma in Serpentine format in similar occurrence as part of the preparatory rites]; and yet clearly, Odin being in the thing that is drilled into by the fire-drill and blown upon (i.e. it takes boring the hole and blowing upon it in order for the (Fire-)Serpent to ‘get through’ and spring to life) places things quite squarely at the ‘Agni’ end of proceedings. We can but seek to ‘square the circle’ by observing that as both Agni and Soma are Rudra-forms … well, it is a semantic distinction that we are involved in (re-)lit-igating.
Although as applies Ritual … semantic distinctions are rarely ‘just’ matters of mere ‘semantics’.
And as for why the Serpent specifically – well, one point which springs to mind is the intriguing salience of Aja Ekapad in AV-S XIII 1 6. Now, Aja Ekapad has been frequently mentioned in recent times as a ‘Dragon’ – although to the best of my knowledge, I can find no archaic textual attestation wherein ‘Ahir’ (or likewise terminology) is utilized for this Rudra form. The closest that we can find is a near-constant co-occurrence alongside Ahir Budhnya (the feared and formidable ‘Dragon of the Deep’) … and the not unreasonable inference that the ‘One-Footed’ descriptor in question is in part an Ophidian calling-card (strictly speaking – a snake would have no feet, but ‘one-footed’, here, is almost the same thing; not least if the serpent is suspended or ‘standing’, a la a Sthambha, stretched out from two opposite ends of the infinity of the universe as, say, an Axis Mundi or ‘linkage’ between two Planes thereof … ).
Sayana, in his commentary upon RV II 31 6, speaks of Aja Ekapad as being ‘the unborn’ (a rather more befitting notion, surely, than ‘The Goat’), and also the Sun. The latter makes for a rather interesting notion in light of the occurrence in the Vishnu Purana for an ‘Ahir Vradhna’ (Vradhna, assumedly, as in ‘The Sun’, or ‘Tree Root’) alongside Aja Ekapad and in place of Ahir Budhnya; as well as the aforesaid situation of AV-S XIII 1 6 , wherein Rohita (also encountered as a Roudran theonymic – although more directly ‘Sun’, here) is stated to have produced Heaven and Earth, the Highest One (Paramesthin – encountered elsewhere as a Shaivite theonym, although here interprable in a variety of ways) to have extended a ‘thread’ or ‘cord’ in connexion to such. This is where Aja Ekapad is stated to be – ‘stabilizing’ (the Griffith translation has ‘stablished’) or ‘firming up’ Earth and Heaven.
Or, phrased more succinctly – it should seem possible that Aja Ekapad, here, is just such a ‘Cord’ … the ‘Cord’ at once providing ‘Conduit’, ‘Linkage’ between Heaven and Earth (a situation of obvious pertinence for the transmission of a ritualine substance such as the Empowering Elixir and its supernal essence down through the rite), as well as an Axis Mundi-like ‘support’ and ‘interlinkage’ for same [and c.f. Rudra as Skambha / Sacral Post, elsewhere in the AV, etc.]. It is something which might have interesting resonancy with certain other elements – the ‘Mid-Atmosphere’ station of Ahir Budhnya (and, for that matter, Rudra), for instance; or, more pointedly, certain other overlaps of Axis Mundi and Serpentine conceptry, as we may encounter in due course.
And speaking of Aja Ekapad in such a[n Odinic] context, we note with interest that in the Ishtis [‘Wishes’] enumerations of the star-lore of the Taittiriya Brahmana (i.e. the empowerments which are under the purview of each particular Nakshatra to bestow, when properly propitiated) that that attributed to Aja Ekapad is to become “splendid, and eminent in sacred lore” [TB III 1 5 10, Dumont translation]. The original Sanskrit reads “tejasvi brahmavarcasya”, the former being ‘radiance’, and the latter also being a lustre [varcasa] – in particular, that of the Brahmana. So, ‘Sacred Power’ [pertaining to the Brahmana ritual elements – this being the older sense to the term, the invocations], ‘Religious Glory’, that innate sanctified quality that makes for a truly great Priest. A vehicle and a conduit for the Divine, radiating out even to the point of visual apparence, perhaps.
Why do we mention this? Because the same ‘Brahmavarcasi’ quality is also that which Brihaspati is associated with in the Nakshatra of Tisya [‘Pushya’ would be the more common modern labelling to the asterism], in TB III 1 4 6. Brihaspati, as we have covered extensively elsewhere, being i) ( a ) Rudra – a matter double-buttressed via the identification of Tisya with Rudra quite directly in TS II 2 10; and ii) being intriguingly correlate with Odin (as we have written upon much more extensively elsewhere) through (inter alia) the suite of conceptry around His use of ‘magic’, per the Ynglinga Saga – and how that aligns on a compelling basis with Brihaspati’s Deed against Vala (with the additional happy impact of this that we can now identify various of Odin’s ‘magic’ as reasonably closely correlate with that we would, perhaps, hail as ‘Mantra’ – or, more accurately, ‘Brahmana’ elements – here in the Hindu understanding). As a further brief comment – Tishya / Pushya [Iranic ‘Tishtrya’] contra Vala would make eminent sense given the Drought-demon Apaosa fought by Tistrya in the Persian perspective ; and we have elsewhere observed the salience of Zeus Ikmaios as cognate to this general timing and responsibility, likewise. Little wonder that Brihaspati is the Hindu labelling for the Graha (Planet) of Jupiter (Jupiter, in addition to being Zeus Pater, also being the ‘Interpretatio Romana’ identification for Odin, per a recension of the Icelandic Rune Poem, as we have written upon previously). Oh, and entirely unsurprisingly, ‘Brahmavarcasa’ is an attested Shaivite theonym, as per the Shiva Sahasranama [‘Thousand Names of Shiva’] found in the eponymous Shiva Purana [IV 35].
Where are we going with that we have just mentioned? The Serpent as bearer of both metaphysical potency, and also Wisdom (indeed, the one significantly coterminous with and contingent upon the other). Indeed, we are reminded instantly of the declaration contained in SBr XI 2 7 12 – entirely uncoincidentally, immediately following the ritualist’s prayer that he become imbued with the aforementioned ‘Brahmavarcasa” in the preceding verse (whether ‘sacred knowledge’, ‘holy lustre’, or ‘priestly potency’ is your preferred rendering therein) – “‘To him who will thus know that glory of the fore-offerings, people will in days to come be flocking from all sides as if wishing to see some great serpent.'” [Eggeling translation]
A final point which we shall make in this specific regard of Soma / Kvasir concerns that aforementioned situation of Serpentine conceptry for Soma in its ritual preparations. Now, the difficulty which we have is that various of these don’t quite fit our typology. How so? Well, the lead contender is the figure of Kadru. Kadru is indeed a serpent – and of rather portentous colouration (a synonym for ‘Tawny’ – an aptly Roudran, as well as Soumyan connotation); yet this Kadru … is feminine. In fact, more than that, this Kadru is identified with the Earth (in contrast with Suparni, a Vak-expression, as the Sky – per SBr III 6 2 1) , and also as the Queen of Serpents (per Eggeling’s commentary upon SBr II 1 4 20 – citing Mahīdhara in relation to RV X 189, the famed ‘Verses of the Queen of Serpents’ invoked at various points in the Brahmanas … and to which we shall come once again obliquely in due course). Perhaps, as applies the ‘AhiManyu’ hailing for the war-fury of the Maruts, the ‘Ahi’ thusly referred to is in fact just such a Serpentine ‘transmitter’ of the mystical quality embodied within the Brew.
And we might also pause to consider the circumstance in AV-S VI 38 – wherein the ‘Mother of Indra’ is entreated to imbue to the worshipper a great energy (‘Tvisi’ – ‘Strength’ and ‘Brilliance’ or ‘Radiance’ are the customary renderings here … my own comment elsewhere as to the pertinent meaning-field reading: “For in addition to the ‘Shining’, ‘Sparking’, ‘Blazing’, and general incandescent Brilliancy … we find Vehemence, Violence, Beauty, Authority, Agitation (especially of the ‘Violent’ kind), Desire or Wish, … and Speech.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a cognate for Ancient Greek ‘Sirius’ – and c.f. that (Wolf) Star as Ardra (Rudra) in our Jyotisha astro-mythicae milieu) – the same ‘energy’ that is also to be found (inter quite some alia) in the ‘Prdaku’ as one of its bearers, here variously translated as ‘Adder’ or ‘Cobra’ [although we should note – the same word can also mean ‘panther’, and we are relying upon Sayana’s annotation that in this case, a Serpent is indeed meant; however, as Lubotsky points out (whilst insisting that the AV-S verse in question ought read “lion, tiger, panther, elephant, snow leopard …”), the Indian species of Vipera Russelli [Daboia Russelii] is a fittingly “pantherine” snake as applies the patterning to its hide].
This situation of a feminine serpent does, however, open up the rather intriguing notion of Odin as Serpent occupying the Sky Father role in coupling and partnership with this aforesaid Queen of Serpents – the Earth (Hnitbjorg … and most especially a certain ‘contents’ thereof – viz. Gunnlöd). We mention this due to a circumstance referenced recurrently within the Hellenic and broader Classical mythos … wherein Zeus is paired with Persephone, Demeter, Rhea (and particular as applies the latter Two, these do not necessarily appear to be discrete figures; c.f. also, in slightly different capacity and purport, the situation of the Queen of Serpents in SBr II 1 4 29-30, AitBr. IV 23 4 & KausBr. XXIV 4, XXVII 4 etc. ) in Serpentine form. This produces – in particular – Dionysus. It would be rather interesting to speculate as to Dionysus (a figure of well-renowned coterminity viz. Odin and Shiva … as we ought expect from a Sky Father deific expression) in relation to Soma (both deific and substance) in this regard. Not least given that Ovid’s Metamorphoses [VI, 114] has Zeus described as a specifically ‘varius’ (that is to say – ‘spotted’ … although ‘changeable’ would be another, if somewhat unexpected translation) serpent. What can ‘Kadru’ translate as? Well, inter alia, ‘spotted’.
But let us move forward.
IV – The Names Of The Dragon – And Their Grim Potency
To return to our Classical comparanda, we encounter the following scene at the successful culmination of Jason’s Rite in the course of the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes:
Hekate (interestingly, Hekate Brimo – and we would observe the fashion in which the ‘Brimo’ epithet resonates in terms of functional usage with Old Norse ‘Grimm-‘) thusly appears to Jason, coming from Her Demesne (κευθμῶν) amidst the Heavens / Deep (contingent upon how one wishes to render ὑπάτων – and cognizant of the fact that Sea and Sky are significantly coterminous, the further back one heads in terms of Indo-European cosmology; as well as the fact of a certain Goddess having Her Home within the Waters, as well).
But it is not only Hekate Who arrives. We also hear that She is coiled about by dread Dragons ( σμερδαλέοι […] δράκοντες ; perhaps compare the ‘Gorgoneion’ descriptions visual and otherwise for Blessed Athena), that are also entwined about oaken shoots (δρυΐνοισι […] πτόρθοισι).
Serpents about a Tree – as it happens, this is also that which Jason is in Colchis in order to face [replete with ‘Fleece’ … and we note that a Ewe, also, had been brought along for the rite; and the utilization of wool within the course of Soma preparation likewise], and represents a recurrent typology within the Greek mythos as we have covered at greater length elsewhere. [One interesting example which may be considered being that of the Nemean Dragon – acting to guard a Sanctuary Grove of Zeus …]
It is also something remarked upon quite prominently as applies The Tree within the Nordic corpus – the Grimnismal famously declaring that there are quite some Wyrms about Yggdrasil, in that same passage including what appear to be Odinic theonyms as the identifications for at least two of these (‘Ófnir ok Sváfnir’ – Grimnismal 34).
Now, as it happens, this may indeed have something rather pertinent to do with our Soma situation – as we are accustomed to finding an association of Ash Trees and Sweet (Ancient Greek – Meli) streams upon the surfaces of same. It should seem of at least probative value for us to consider whether there may prove some ‘conceptual overlap’ with the Serpentine coiling down the trunks of the Tree(s) likewise. Not least when we consider a certain Zeus Meilichios – as we shall be meeting in due course.
But to speak more directly to the situation of Tree and Snake – there are two (and a third) ways to consider this paradigm. The first being – as we have but briefly parsed viz. Aja Ekapad above – the Serpent as Axis Mundi ; the second, the Serpent acting to guard the Axis Mundi (and more upon that in a moment); and the ‘third’ way is simply taking what is found in the Grimnismal at seeming face value … with the serpent gnawing upon and acting as active threat to the Axis Mundi (and the immanency of Cosmic Order for which this also stands).
If the third, then the situation of those two names of Dragons also being names of Odin makes little sense – unless we presume that it’s a case of both those dragons and Odin happening to share names. It is not impossible, certainly.
(An outside prospect would be that the notion of the Dragons aforementioned ‘gnawing’ upon the World-Tree is accurate … and Odinic theonymics are resonant with the figures in question; this having resulted from a ‘conceptual shift’ – a ‘flattening’ of the understandings of Dragons somewhat down to merely ‘adversarial’ at the time that the relevant verse of the Grimnismal, with its seemingly irregular meter (and therefore potentially later or interpolatory authorship), was being promulgated)
If the second, then we are on more familiar footing. The situation of the Guardian Serpent is a well-known one throughout the Indo-European world. The ‘House-Serpent’ found in the Baltic (and, to my slight surprise, Sweden) is perhaps the most immediately thought-of exemplar. Or we have the Serpent rearing up about the ShivLing in the Hindusphere (the Cobra – when threatened, it does not retreat … it rather does exactly that opposite; and prepares to strike whilst holding its ground and flaring out and upward). We likewise might draw from the suites of Classical conceptry as applies not only the aforementioned Draconic warders of certain Divine groves and treasures (Zeus’ at Nemea, as noted above; or Ares’ watched by the Ismenian Dragon, the Golden Fleece sought by Jason protected by another such specimine, the Garden of the Hesperides, etc. etc. etc.) … but also a protector (in Sanskrit, perhaps we might say ‘Kshetrapala’ ) of the Polis at Athens, as applies that aforementioned ‘Dragoness’, Athena (in this case, Polias).
Speaking to that latter suite of (Athenian) conceptry – we are also immediately confronted, as applies Erechtheus and Cecrops with the similar situation to that which we had beheld viz. Thebes. Namely, an Ophidian ethnogenesis. And it seems rather suspiciously on-point to notice that the major ‘Erechtheus’ of the place (other than the human figure) is a form of Poseidon (a Sky Father deific expression – and, of course, Waters / Deep linked), occurrent in such close proximity to the aforementioned Athenian Dragoness that is Athena. ‘Erechtheus’, after all, being a ‘Shaking’, ‘Rending’ terminology at its base.
Perhaps the best exemplar, of course, is the figure of Zeus Ktesios – the Zeus Who presides over the ‘household goods’ (Ktesios or Ctesias meaning ‘of property’, ‘of possessions’), and more saliently for our purposes, is a protector-spirit for the household itself. This Zeus-Aspect is prominently presented in serpentine form.
Why does that interest us? Well, other than the typology we have just been sketching out of the Serpent(ine Aspect of the Sky Father) as Protector … it instantly recalls another situation, as recounted in the Vedas, for the Sky Father as Protector of the Dwelling. That is to say, as Vastopati / Vastospati. The Rudra-form – and a ‘Son of Sarama’ (that is to say – a Wolf). As we have noted elsewhere, there seems an interesting potential pattern in evidence for ‘Serpent’ and ‘Wolf’ co-expressions of the same underlying essence – existing both between certain IE pantheonic perspectives (as can be seen here), and also within others (consider ‘Grafvitnir’ – ‘Grave-Wolf’ – as a recurrent Old Norse hailing for ‘Dragon’, for example).
But let us bring things back to Odin (Who is most definitely, if in a somewhat different capacity, a figure that can be said to have been ‘Hanging Around’ the World-Tree).
The three attested ‘Draconic’ shared Theonymics for Him are ‘Ofnir’, ‘Svafnir’, and ‘Grimr’.
It is not our purpose to get into the etymology and broader comparative usage etc. for these three terms here – suffice to say that there are some … complexities.
‘Ófnir’ is perhaps the most enigmatic – Bellows has ‘Bewilderer’, others have suggested ‘Weaver’ (viz. Weave’s Old Norse cognate ‘Vefa’ – and I suppose one can see how a Serpent might be compared in such a manner; and, for that matter, viz. Wyrd, Odin); and we are rather interested in the suggestion of its linkage with terms of indelibly Odinic potency for fury and the incitement of same (c.f. ‘œfr’ – anger, vehemency; from which Gurevich seeks to reconstruct a sense of ‘one who incites to battle’, ‘instigator’. c.f. also, perhaps ‘ofreiði’ – ‘excessive anger’; ‘ofra’ – ‘raise up’ … and consider the ‘stirring up’ underpinning to ‘furor’ terminology such as ‘Erinyes’ when illuminated via the doublets of PIE *h₃er- in this sense, as well as that going into ‘Mountainous’ terminology of an ‘Oro-‘ style sounding – and, of course, our good friend, Sanskrit ‘Rti’ (ऋति) ). (There is also a potential point of relevance for the serpentine heiti ‘óri’, rendered by Gurevich as ‘raver’ (c.f. ‘œrr’, for, again, ‘fury’; and ‘órar’ for ‘fits of madness’) – which is not an attested Odinic epithet, but nonetheless helps to show that being ‘as mad as a snake’ appears quite the Germanic understanding … and we are also reminded of the ‘Ahimanyu’ [‘Serpent’s Furor’] quality attributed to the Maruts in RV I 64 8-9 – They do so take after Their Father)
Where are we going with that? Well, right back up to our initial observations viz. the connexions between Serpents and Furor in the Nordic sphere. Indeed, one might also be moved to contemplate that Hindu conceptry around the ‘raising up’ of one’s ‘energy’ – the Kundalini Serpent, hailed as Shakti [a marvelous term that can also mean ‘Spear’ … and c.f., perhaps, both the extensive array of Serpent-Spear kennings and heiti encountered in the Nordic textual traditions – as well as the circumstance of Serpent, Spear, and Tree (Spine?) all in relation to the Axis Mundi]. But again we digress.
Sváfnir is, on the surface, much more straightforward. ‘One Who Puts To Sleep’ – and generally interpreted in the overtly dark sense of a ‘Killer’. There is an outside possibility for something akin to Hermes’ utilization of that prominent snake-staff, the Caduceus, to put to sleep mortals; although if I were to go spelunking through the spheres of broader Indo-European comparanda (which, let’s be honest – I am … and you’re all along for the ride), my mind did ponder whether the ‘Go to Sleep’ beseechings of RV VII 55, to Vastopati, might prove pertinent. A rather direct Odinic linkage is supplied via the Haraldskvæði of Þorbjǫrn Hornklofi – wherein, in (appropriately enough for Roudran purposes) verse 11, we find mention of ‘Sváfnis salnæfrar’ – that is to say, the ‘roofing’ or ‘shingles’ of Svafnir’s Hall; by which it is meant ‘Shields’ (Valhalla – Odin’s Hall – famously being roofed with such). For the sake of completeness, we perhaps ought make mention of the potential for some ‘Svafnir’ occurrences to in fact be ‘Svolnir’ – Svǫlnir seemingly being a ‘Cool [One]’ sort of term (c.f. svalr – ‘cold’, and the Svalinn / Svǫl shield which cools the rays of the Sun).
It is perhaps aptly appropriate that the third term, ‘Grímr’, is intriguingly complex – and seems to get to the heart of our understandings for Odin as deific. Some have it as ‘Hooded’ or ‘Masked One’ – similar to ‘Gríma’ and ‘Grimnir’. Others instead favour it to mean ‘Fierce’, ‘Cruel’ (c.f. ‘Grimmlig’ in relation to the expression of Hel per the Gylfaginning; and, for that matter, usage of ‘Grimrar’ in the Hrynhenda of Sturla Þórðarson), related to Proto-Germanic *Grimman – ‘to rage’ (other descendants emphasize the ‘Roar’ also). Per Pokorny, this ought derive from a PIE *ghrem-2 – a ‘thunderous’ term for the appropriate sound and its co-expressives (Old Prussian ‘grīmons’ – for elements chanted or sung, for instance). Intriguingly, Gurevich notes that ‘Grímr’ does not seem to occur in the Skaldic corpus to mean ‘Serpent’ prior to the 14th century. Whilst it’s always possible that this is merely due to those Skaldic verses and poems which had used it in this sense prior to this date not having come down to us – it also invites us to contemplate whether it is a case of the ‘serpentine’ sense having developed from the direct Odinic application to the term.
Whichever way one goes with it – and it is perhaps likely to be a case of ‘both’ rather than ‘either’ – one can rest assured that it is an eminently Odinic epithet. ‘Fury’ and ‘Masques’. Just as it should be.
Oh, and just briefly – it is perhaps vaguely interesting to note the circumstance of both ‘Grímnir’ and ‘Grímr’ occurring in the Þulur as heiti for a Goat. Why? That rather curious direct rendering for the ‘Aja’ of ‘Aja Ekapad’ to mean ‘Goat’. Perhaps there’s something to it after all.
There are further Serpentine hailings which we might contemplate in these lights, however we ought draw matters more toward their (admittedly incomplete – for now) telos.
One which I will, but briefly make mention of is ‘haugvarðr’ – ‘Mound-Watcher’. One might just as feasibly connect it to those circumstances of Dragons being known to take up residence inside barrow-mounds (as is seen in Beowulf) – yet to my mind it instantly recalled the recounting of the Ynglinga Saga for Odin: “Sometimes even he called the dead out of the earth, or set himself beside the burial-mounds; whence he was called the ghost-sovereign, and lord of the mounds.” [Laing translation] [“En stundum vakti hann upp dauða menn or jörðu, eða settist undir hanga; fyrir því var hann kallaðr drauga dróttinn eða hanga dróttinn.” for the original text]
And as for why we have chosen that particular hailing to close of this section … it is because it aptly charts our trajectory into the next. With another Serpentine Sky Father deific expression Who is quite closely associated with the Dead.
6 thoughts on “Dyaus Draconis – The Dread Dragon Forms of the Indo-European Sky Father [ Part One – Of Grave Wolves And Flashing Eyes : The Odinic Ophidian Observed ]”
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Of course there is a connection between goats and serpents to found with the Hellenic Aegis and in the Hindu-sphere there is the famous snake-eating goat. One also sees a link between the Greek Pan and divine madness, as well as the Norse Heidrun and the Mead that the Einherjar drink. The fleece of the ram may also be linked to the use of a goat-skin in the rites of our ancestors. This fleece appears in Scythian art as well.
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I tend to prefer a different etymology for the Aegis – relating it more directly to storms [c.f. Kataegis [in which the Storm ‘descends’ – Kata] ; but I accept that the ‘Goatskin’ etymology is a thing in circulation.
It may also be – from memory – cognate with the ‘Aja’ of ‘Aja Ekapad’ .. if ‘Aja’ is taken to mean ‘Goat’ [although other meanings are quite plausible].
Goat situation viz. Milk (or, in this case, Mead) – we would be reminded of the situation of the nursing of Zeus … not least in terms of the rather *specific* theonymics involved there.
c.f. Amalthea here –
c.f. Adrasteia, more to the point –
Agreed on the etymology, though goats seem to have been connected by the IE with either the Sky Father or his Thundering Son at an early date. I’ve seen Lord Shiva linked with them a few times and of course Thor had them yoked to his chariot. Perhaps both the Greek Aegis and Hindu Aja, though having other direct and original meanings, were seen as a useful way to recall this connection,
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