Myth Monday: Nut the Sky Mother (Egyptian Myth)

Myth Monday: Nut the Sky Mother (Egyptian Myth)

By Kara Newcastle

Nut by A8takashi wikimedia commons

There are a lot of nice things you can use to describe your mother, but the title of “She Who Bore the Gods”? That’s a tough one to top. “Mistress of All.” That’s another good one. Try them out on your mom, and if she looks at you funny, just tell her that the titles come from Nut, the mother of the gods of ancient Egypt.

Nut (possibly pronounced “Nu-uit”—nobody really knows how the ancient Egyptians pronounced their words) was represented in different ways, each one representing a certain aspect of her character or power. As the Heavenly Cow, Nut was portrayed as a giant cow with one eye being the sun and other the moon, striding over the earth, sheltering all beneath her body. Similarly, Nut could be portrayed as a sow with suckling piglets (representing stars) beneath her.

Nut was also occasionally portrayed as a huge sycamore tree with the sun at the top and with limbs … although, when I say “limbs” I mean literal human arms poking out of the tree trunk, with one arm holding a tray of food and the other arm beckoning people to help themselves. The towering presence of the tree, the comfort it gives (in the form of shade from the sun) and nourishment (food like tree-grown fruit and nuts) it provides are all reminiscent of the love and comfort a mother would give a child.

Pharaoh Thutmose III is nursed by Nut in the form of a sycamore tree.

Additionally, when portrayed as a human woman, Nut was depicted with a pot balanced on her head. In ancient Egypt, pots were metaphors for wombs, and, as the mother of the gods, portraying Nut with a pot makes sense (also, the Egyptian word for “water pot” was “nw,” where we get Nut’s name as well as her hieroglyph.) She was often depicted with outspread wings as well, showing her hovering above her children.

However, if you’ve ever seen a picture of Nut anywhere, it’s most likely the goddess in her sky mother role; a giant, blue-skinned, star-spangled woman standing on her hands and feet over a prone man, her feet and hands in the cardinal direction points.


You’re probably extremely confused by this image, so let’s get into the background of the myth, shall we? For starters, Nut was the daughter of the primordial god Shu (air) and the goddess Tefnut (moisture.) Her brother was Geb the earth god—that’s the guy lying under her in the pictures (Egyptian mythology is unique in the fact that it is one of the few religions that depict the earth deity as male and sky deity as female, when most others have the reverse. You’ll see why in a minute.) Almost soon as Nut and Geb were born they fell madly in love with each other, married, and created many of the famous gods you’ve heard of.

As always, there are some variations of how Nut gave birth to her divine children; most stories say that Nut and Geb spent so much time making love that Nut never had a chance to give birth, so her children were all trapped inside her womb. The unborn gods cried out to their grandfather Shu for help, so Shu forcibly separated the pair by pushing Geb down with his feet and lifting Nut high up over his head, forcing the Earth and Sky into their proper places. Another story says that Shu was just plain jealous of how much sex Geb and Nut were having, so he separated the two. Even so, Nut was pregnant, and she gave birth to the stars and planets, which all hover close to her. After the sun sets, Nut descends so she may lie with Geb; when she leaves her place above, that’s when night falls.

But the third version is my favorite for the cleverness of it.

As the story goes, the first child Nut gave birth to was the sun god Ra, and he was made to be the king of Egypt and the gods. It was revealed that Nut would give birth to more gods and, not wanting to share his power, Ra cursed Nut, saying that she would never be allowed to give birth during any time of the year. The new gods were trapped inside Nut’s womb.

In desperation, Nut called upon Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom, and asked him to find a way to help her give birth. Thoth mused over the problem: Nut was cursed to never give birth during the year. The year at that time had only 360 days in it.

Queen Nefertari and Thoth

Therefore, they needed to create some new days.

During this time, there was no night, because Khonsu the moon god shone as brightly as the sun. Thoth invited Khonsu to a gambling game and convince Khonsu that every time he lost to Thoth, the moon god would have to surrender some of his light. Not realizing he was being played, Khonsu agreed. Thoth rigged the game so that Khonsu lost over and over again, giving up so much of his light that Thoth now had enough light to create five extra days (and that’s why the moon doesn’t shine as brightly as the sun and we have night.)

Thoth created the five extra days of the year, and for each day he created, Nut was able to give birth to another god or goddess, beginning with Osiris the fertility god, Isis the goddess of magic, god of war Horus the Elder (later identified as Osiris and Isis’s son Horus), Nephthys the goddess of water and finally Set, the god of evil. When Ra discovered that he had been outwitted, he furiously ordered his grandfather Shu to hold Nut and Geb apart from each other, so that no more new gods may be created.

Remember how I said that Egyptians were unusual in the fact that they made their sky deity female rather than male? There’s actually an interesting reason for that; the ancient Egyptians believed that Nut gave birth to the sun god Ra in the east every morning. He began his journey over Egypt as a youth, reached adulthood at noon, and by the time the sun was setting, he was an old man nearing his death. Nut’s mouth was in the west, and as Ra descended she swallowed him. He traveled through her body at night and was reborn the next day.


Ra’s rebirth also marks Nut as a guardian of the dead; as Ra spirit return to her, so did all spirits of all living things. She waits in the afterlife to welcome back the spirits she had given birth to, as all life comes from her and returns to her as well, earning her another title, “She Who Holds One Thousand Souls.” She was shown as one of the divine judges in the afterlife, welcoming all the souls who passed the tests to their new home and giving them refreshments. The inside of many sarcophagi lids have paintings of Nut, featuring her hovering protectively over the dead person within. She was also frequently painted in huge murals on the ceilings of tombs. In addition, according to the Osiris myth, after he was butchered by his evil brother Set, the reassembled Osiris climbed an immense ladder up to the sky, so that he may rejoin his mother Nut in the afterlife. Ladders were frequently placed in tombs so that the dead soul could climb up to meet Nut, and images of ladders were used to identify her.

The Weighing of the Heart from the Book of the Dead of Ani. Ani and his wife Tutu watch as Anubis weighs Ani’s heart against the feather of Maat. At the top the gods of Egypt are ready to pass judgment. The fifth deity in line from the left is Nut.

Nut was worshipped mainly at Heliopolis, and while she was a popular goddess and had shrines and sacred sycamore trees that represented her, there were no known temples dedicated solely to her. In Memphis she was worshiped as a healer at the House of Nut, and she was praised extensively at the city of Dendera, where she was said to have given birth to Isis. Because of her role in creating the constellations, Nut was featured heavily in the text The Fundamentals of the Course of the Stars, an Egyptian book of astronomical studies (constellations, planetary travel, moon phases, etc.) with the first version written around 2,000 BC. The book has since been renamed as The Book of Nut.

Myth Monday: Corn Mother (Penobscot Myth)

Myth Monday: Corn Mother (Penobscot Myth)

By Kara Newcastle


metropolitan museum of art mother and child doll Seneca doll wood sculpture 1870-80

Among many Native American tribes, corn is not only a staple of their diet but is also considered a holy gift. Corn can be grown in abundance and keeps well when stored so that families had plenty to eat during the winter when it became too difficult to hunt. The Native Americans had many different stories about how they were given the gift of corn, but I like the one from the Penobscot tribe of Maine because it tells of that the creation of corn was made by a mother who gave the ultimate sacrifice for her children.

In the beginning, when the world was new, Kloskurbeh the All Maker walked across the land creating new plants and animals. At first, he was alone, but in time he was joined by a young man, the son of the wind and the ocean waves, born from the warmth of the noontime sun. The young man called Kloskurbeh “Uncle,” and the All Maker was happy to keep the youth by his side, teaching him how to create.

One day as Kloskurbeh and his nephew journeyed, they came across a beautiful young woman. She was born from a dewdrop that had fallen on the leaf of a plant and was warmed by the noontime sun. She smiled radiantly as the men approached her and said to them, “I am love. I am the giver of strength. I nourish all people and animals, and they will all love me.”


Kloskurbeh the All Maker was overjoyed at discovering this new woman and welcomed her. The Young Man fell instantly in love with the woman, and with Kloskurbeh heartfelt encouragement, his nephew and the new woman married. The pair were passionately in love, and the woman soon gave birth to all the humans that peopled the world. They called her First Mother, and the Young Man became the First Father, and Kloskurbeh taught them all how to live as people. When he was finished, Kloskurbeh then retired to his home in the north.

The new humans were expert hunters, and with their supplies of meat they lived well and their numbers grew rapidly. In time though, the number of people outpaced the amount of meat they could gather to eat, and it was not long before the people began to suffer. Without enough meat to sustain them, the people began to starve to death.

First Mother was devastated to see her children waste away from starvation. The littlest ones would stagger and crawl to her as much as their strength would allow. “First Mother, help us!” they would beg. “Please, feed us!”

First Mother wept. She promised that she would find them more food, but she would cry even harder after they departed. She sobbed so bitterly that her husband, First Father, became frightened.

“My heart,” he said to her, “You weep so much. I worry for you.”

First Mother nodded. “I weep for my dying children. They must have food, or they will vanish from this earth.”

“We will find a way to feed them, beloved. But what can I do to keep you happy now?”

Swallowing hard, the First Mother took a deep breath, working to slow her tears. When she found her voice, she raised her sad eyes to her precious husband and said, “What would make me happy is to see our children fed. You must kill me.”

First Father was horrified by his wife’s request and immediately refused. First Mother begged and begged First Father to kill her and, distressed, First Father went to the house of his uncle, Kloskurbeh the All Maker, and asked for his guidance.

Kloskurbeh was saddened to hear of First Mother’s wish, but he was wise and understood. He embraced his nephew and said gently, “You must do as you are asked.”

First Father’s heart was shattered and he returned home, weeping as bitterly as First Mother wept. He told his dear wife that he would honor her wish, and First Mother thanked him. She told First Father that he must kill her in the noontime sun, and then have two of their sons drag her dead body by her hair over the earth until all of her flesh had been scraped away. Then they should bury her bones in a clearing, but visit the site again in seven moons. There they would find food, and that they should take much of it, but save some to return to the earth.

The First Father agreed and slew his wife. Two of their sons took First Mother’s body and dragged it all across the earth by her hair until all of her flesh was scraped away. Then First Father and all of his surviving children gathered First Mother’s bones and buried them in a clearing. They departed, lamenting terribly for their lost mother.

Seven moons passed, and First Father and his children went back to the clearing where they had buried First Mother. To their astonishment, they saw a field of tall green plants, plants they had never seen before. Each of these plants bore a pod tipped with golden threads as silky as their mother’s hair. When the leaves were stripped back, they found the kernels of the fruit within to be incredibly sweet. This was corn, born of their mother’s flesh, created to keep them fed.

Corn harvest in Montgomery County, Alabama.

Grateful beyond all measure for the First Mother’s sacrifice and gift, her children did as they were told; they took some of the corn and replanted the rest so that it would return every seven months to feed them again and again. It was also at this time they discovered a sweet-smelling plant that had grown from their mother’s breath. This was tobacco, and as her children picked it, the First Mother’s voice whispered to them, “The leaves of this plant are sacred. Burn them to make your hearts happy, to clear your minds, and to strengthen your prayers.”

Understanding now why the First Mother had made her choice, the First Father instructed his children to never forget why they now had corn and tobacco, never forget that their mother had loved them all so much that she willingly gave up her life to feed them.

And that is the story of Corn Mother.



Writing Wednesday: No, You Don’t Always Have to Please Your Audience, Part 1: Writing the Characters The Fans “Want”

Writing Wednesday: No, You Don’t Always Have to Please Your Audience, Part 1: Writing the Characters The Fans “Want”

By Kara Newcastle

Konrad Westermayr_Schreibendes_Mädchen Writing girl 1913

Okay, so let’s say you’ve been writing for a while. You’re feeling pretty good about your skills and confident in your ability to tell a cohesive and engaging story—great! You’ve gotten to a point where people are starting to take notice, and you have even developed something of a fan base—awesome!

Now that you have fans, you might start worrying about how you will keep them. You might start to worry about what they’re going to think about your next fictional endeavor. You want to give them something they’re going to love. You might even feel a little pressure from some of these fans to include things that you hadn’t considered before, and aren’t sure you want to do. Then you start thinking that maybe you should … after all, they’re your fans, you should make them happy, right?

If you ever find yourself worrying about “pleasing your fans,” just stop. First off, you’re not going to please everybody—it’s impossible. Second of all, if you start writing with the idea that you’re doing it for someone else, your writing is never going to be good. It’ll be strained, stilted, restricted, it won’t sound honest, and you’ll hate it because it won’t feel like your work—it’ll feel like somebody else’s project, and that’s a sensation that will rip you apart. Always write for yourself first and please the rest of the world later (or never, in some cases.)

In older writers (Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the like), there isn’t quite as much pressure to please their audiences; they feel more concerned with the quality of the fiction, and if people aren’t happy about it, well, screw ‘em, essentially. With newer, younger writers, we’ve grown up in a world where it seems like the fans run the show, and if we do anything that is just a hair out of line with what is the popular cause at that moment, we run the risk of being verbally flambeed and forced to issue an apology.

I’m here to tell you that it is perfectly okay to not follow, for lack of a better phrase, whatever cause is trending at the moment, especially regarding your characters; just because everyone else is hopping up and down screaming that we need characters with a feature (again, for lack of a better word) that is not frequently portrayed in the media does not automatically mean that you have to make any of your characters like that. I agree, there’s a massive lack of diverse characters in fiction and entertainment, but I really don’t think you should feel forced to include them if you don’t feel a natural connection to that character. Don’t make a character gay because you feel like you “have to,” or you’re worried that people would complain if you don’t; have a gay character because you know that’s how you want that character to be. If you make a character gay, trans, disabled, a different race, a different religion, or whatever it is that is contrary to your original intent because you want to satisfy your audience, that character will not come across as genuine, and trust me when I say people will pick up on it.

I have a vast array of different characters, but I do not have a character who is transsexual. Why not? For the same reason I don’t have characters who are Russian, Episcopalian, autistic, or missing a limb; I don’t have a story for them yet. When I have an idea for a story that can use a character who is Russian, Episcopalian, autistic, or missing a limb, then I will write a story with a character who is Russian, Episcopalian, autistic, or missing a limb. I will not write about a character who doesn’t click with me at that moment because if they’re not true to me, they will not be true to my readers. If they’re not true to my readers, then I’m basically using that character as clickbait, and you’d better believe there are going to be a lot of teed-off readers.

All right, so I made this Part 1 of this blog because when I initially started writing it, I realized there were a few other topics related to pleasing your fans, and if I kept going to with it the blog would be, like, eighteen pages long. No matter how much time you might have right now, nobody’s going to read a blog that long. I’ll try to have Part 2 shortened and ready for next week!

Myth Monday: Yennenga the Warrior Mother (African Legend)

Myth Monday: Yennenga the Warrior Mother (African Legend)

By Kara Newcastle





A great many years ago, Nedega, the king of Dagomba, considered himself doubly blessed; not only was his daughter Yennenga indescribably beautiful, she was also his greatest warrior, said to be as fierce as a lioness. She was so skilled at fighting and strategizing that her father the king made her the chief of his royal guards and appointed her to lead battles against their enemies. Time again Yennenga led their soldiers to victory, bringing home fabulous treasures and other spoils of war to enrich Dagomba.

The king of Dagomba loved his daughter very much, and he also loved how powerful she made him and their country. When suitors came to court Yennenga, the king demanded to speak to them first. After inspecting and questioning each young man, the king sent every one of them away, saying they were not worthy of his daughter. The king would say that one man was too dumb, another too fat. Then he would say that another man was too smart, and yet another man too thin. The king found fault with every suitor because he was not willing to lose Yennenga and the wealth and power she brought him.

by brenda gael mcsweeney

Yennenga, however, was growing desperately unhappy; though she was proud to be the greatest warrior of her people, what she wanted most in life was to marry and have a family of her own. She quickly realized that her father was not about to give her up, not about to let her choose her own path, live her own life … but she thought she knew how to convince him to let her go.

One season, Yennenga cleared a field all by herself and planted wheat. She tended to the plants daily, soon growing the most incredible field of wheat anyone had ever seen in Dagomba. At harvest time, she brought her father and his ministers out to see what she had done.

The king was beside himself with delight. “Do you see?” he crowed. “Not only is my daughter Yennenga beautiful and strong and brave, she is so gifted that she grew all this wheat by herself. And look how healthy these plants are! Yennenga is my greatest treasure.”

Yennenga smiled but did not speak. She led her father and his ministers back to their palace, but after that day, she never returned to the field of wheat. In time the unrelenting sun withered the plants, and all of Yennenga’s hard work went to waste.

One day the king noticed how the wheat crop had failed, and he was deeply troubled that Yennenga, so hardworking and dedicated, would let the wheat die. He called the princess to him and asked her why she had abandoned her field.

“You see how these plants have withered away?” Yennenga asked. “How their potential has gone to waste? Father, this is what you are doing to me … by not allowing me the joy of love and motherhood, you are letting me wither away.”

The king was shocked by Yennenga’s words. Yennenga thought that her demonstration and her words had swayed her father’s mind, but instead the king was furious that she had embarrassed him in front of his ministers. He roared that Yennenga would never marry and ordered her locked in her room.

Some princesses would have languished in their rooms, but not a warrior like Yennenga. Having feared that her father would try to imprison her, Yennenga had a backup plan ready. Her second in command among the royal guard snuck up to her room, bringing her men’s clothing. Yennenga disguised herself as one of her soldiers, and together she and her lieutenant fled Dagomba on horseback in the dead of night. Just as they crossed the border of her kingdom, Yennenga and her friend were ambushed by enemy Malinké warriors who had been patrolling the area. Not wanting to see the princess be cut down when she was so close to freedom, her friend turned around and attacked the warriors. He was quickly overwhelmed and killed, but Yennenga escaped into the forest beyond.

Yennenga rode north for many weeks, covering hundreds of miles until, out of exhaustion, her stallion stopped by a lonely hut at the edge of a forest. Yennenga asked the owner if she could rest there. The man, Riale, had been living alone for some time, and was happy to let Yennenga—still disguised as a man—stay for as long as she needed. Yennenga was grateful, and when her strength returned, she joined Riale as he hunted elephants, and helped to tend to his land.


At first, Yennenga had planned to move on, but she saw that Riale was a good and kind man. After several days, Yennenga felt that she could trust Riale, and she revealed herself as Princess Yennenga of Dagomba. Riale was stunned but was not put off by the fact that Yennenga had not been truthful with him. In fact, Riale admitted that he had a secret as well; he was the prince of Mande. His father the king had been assassinated by Riale’s brother, and Riale, unable to kill his own brother in retaliation, chose to flee and live in exile instead.

Yennenga and Riale soon fell in love and married. They had a son that they named Ouedraogo (“stallion”) after the horse that had carried Yennenga to Riale’s home. They lived together in peace, but when Ouedraogo turned seventeen, Yennenga felt that it was only proper for him to meet her father, the king of Dagomba. Yennenga worried that her father hated her for running away, but when she and her family arrived at the palace, her father was overjoyed to see her. He took Ouedraogo under his wing, teaching him one thousand things he needed to be a good king, and three things that everyone must learn: to see the beauty in the world and call it ugly, to get up in the morning and do what you cannot do, and to give free rein to your dreams, because those who do not pursue their dreams will be devastated by them.

Ouedraogo took all these lessons to heart. He founded the first Mossi kingdom in what is now Burkina Faso and is said to be the father of other tribes as well. All these tribes look to Yennenga as their ancestral mother, and even today Yennenga is a very common name in Burkina Faso, and many streets and buildings are named in her honor. The national football team of Burkina Faso is called Les Etalons (The Stallions) in honor of her horse, and at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, the first prize award is the Étalon de Yennenga, a golden statue featuring a spear-wielding Yennenga astride her rearing horse.

stallion of yennenga

Myth Monday: Echidna, Mother of All Monsters (Greek Myth)

Myth Monday: Echidna, Mother of All Monsters (Greek Myth)

By Kara Newcastle




Lady Gaga likes to claim the title “Mother Monster,” but there’s one figure from mythology that beat her to it a few thousand years ago. You might have heard of her, you’ve probably seen pictures of her, and not know who she is: she is Echidna, the Mother of All Monsters in Greek mythology.

As always, there are many variations to the myth of Echidna. Generally, the ancient Greeks believed that the earth goddess Gaea mated with Tartarus (the part of the Underworld where offenders to the gods were sent for eternal torment) and then gave birth to Echidna and Typhon, the hundred-armed, hundred-headed, snake-legged storm god, in retaliation for Zeus’s tyrannical behavior. Other ancient writers attributed Echidna’s parentage to the monster sea gods Phorcys and Ceto, to the nymph Callirrhoe and the warrior Chrysaor (through Chrysaor, this would make Echidna the granddaughter of Medusa), the Underworld river goddess Styx and King Peiras, and, in more obscure traditions, of Phanes, the primordial intersexed god.

From the waist up, Echidna was said to have to body of a beautiful woman. From the waist down, well, that was a different’ matter; she had the body of an immense snake. She never aged, and liked to live in caves like the one where she was born. She was an unapologetic carnivore and had no problems with chowing down on a human or two. It was said that she also had no problem in mating with human men either; keeping her snake half-hidden, Echidna would lure thick-skulled men away from safety, and, before they could register what was happening, she would spring on them.

In time, Echidna married Typhon, and together they created a brood with faces only a mother like Echidna could love. Their beastly children were (but not limited to, as there are always different variations):

Orthus: the giant two-headed 800px-Orthos_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2620hound. Orthus became the guard dog of the two-bodied giant Geryon, who owned a herd of impressive cattle. Alongside the barbarian Eurytion, Orthus guarded the cattle, until Hercules arrived to complete another labor. Hercules killed Orthus with either his club or poisoned arrows (Orthus is frequently depicted shot through with arrows), then made short work of Eurytion and Geryon before making off with the cattle. (The story continues with Hercules then running into a “drakaina”, a female dragon described as half-woman, half-snake. Some have speculated that this is Echidna, or a dragon similar to her. She refused to let Hercules pass with the cattle until he had sex with her. Seeing no reason to refuse, Hercules did just that and fathered three sons on the dragoness, the youngest of whom became the king of the Scythian tribe.)

790px-Herakles_Kerberos_Eurystheus_Louvre_E701Cerberus: the three-headed guard dog of the Underworld (though later writers claim as many as 50 or 100 heads.) Cerberus guarded the gates of the Underworld to make sure that no dead soul escaped and that no living soul entered. His three heads were depicted facing to the left (looking into the past), facing forward (the present), and to the right (the future.) The witch goddess Hecate charmed Cerberus into a stupor and grew the magical plant hellebore in his mouths from his spittle. Cerberus was often shown with a spotted coat, and some researchers believe that (loosely translated), Cerberus’s name means “Spot.” One of Hercules’s labors was to drag Cerberus up from the Underworld and present it to King Eurystheus, to whom Hercules was a slave and was the only child of Echidna’s that was not slain by a hero.

422px-Antonio_del_Pollaiolo_-_Ercole_e_l'Idra_e_Ercole_e_Anteo_-_Google_Art_Project 1475The Lernaean Hydra: The Lernean Hydra was a dragon that dwelt in the swamps of Lerna and was beloved by the queen of the Olympians, Hera. It was massive, venomous and vicious, and at the time possessed only one head. For his second labor, Hercules was dispatched to kill the dragon but found that each time he cut off its head, two more grew back in its place, until he was faced with a nine-headed monster (again, stories vary on the number.) Accompanying Hercules was his nephew Iolaus, carrying a torch. When Hercules realized that the center head was immortal, Iolaus handed him the torch, and Hercules used it to cauterize the Hydra’s neck wound, preventing any more heads from growing. He succeeded in finally killing the monster, and Hera was so heartbroken that she set the dragon in the sky as the constellation Hydra. Hercules returned to his master, but King Eurystheus declared that since Hercules had help in killing the Hydra, the labor wasn’t truly “completed” and didn’t count. Hercules also took the time to dip his arrows in the Hydra’s poisonous blood, which ultimately became his undoing.

615px-Chimera_Apulia_Louvre_K362_-_full_imageChimera: The Chimera was a female monster, usually described as having the head and forequarters of a lion, the hindquarters of a dragon (sometimes her tail was a dragon’s neck and head), with a goat growing out of the middle. Oh, and she could also breathe fire. Chimera was slain when the hero Bellerophon, riding Pegasus, jammed a spear tipped with a lump of lead down her throat. Chimera’s fire melted the lead, thus killing her.

455px-IngresOdipusAndSphinxSphinx: The Sphinx was a lioness with the head and breasts of a beautiful woman and the wings of an eagle. She perched on rocks outside of the city of Thebes, and asked each person who approached her a riddle: “What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs in the day, and three legs in the evening?” If no one could solve the riddle, she would spring down and strangle them with her paws (sphinx means “strangler.”) One day, a young nobleman named Oedipus appeared before her, and the Sphinx posed her riddle to him. Oedipus gave her the answer: “Man, for in the dawn of his life he crawls on four legs, in the day he stands on two, and in the eve of his old age he walks with a cane.” Devastated that her riddle had been solved, the Sphinx committed suicide by throwing herself off a cliff.

736px-Francisco_de_Zurbarán_030 Herkules vernichtet den Löwen von Nemea 1634The Nemean Lion: The Nemean Lion was a lion with impenetrable golden skin—no sword, spear, or arrow could wound it. As his first labor, Hercules was sent to kill the Lion (though Hercules’s master was really hoping that the Lion would kill Hercules instead.) Finding that his arrows harmlessly bounced off the Lion, Hercules chased it into its lair, a cave with two openings. After blocking off one of the openings with boulders, Hercules marched in and leaped upon the Lion. In the struggle, the Lion managed to bite off one of Hercules’s fingers (according to some stories), so Hercules wrapped both his arms around its throat and strangled it to death. Wanting to bring the pelt back to his master, Hercules was stymied about how to skin it, so the goddess of wisdom Athena told him to use the Nemean Lion’s own claws. Hercules forever wore the Lion’s pelt as armor afterward. (In Disney’s Hercules, there’s a seen of Hercules posing in a lion’s skin as his portrait is painted on a vase. If you look closely at the skin, you’ll see it’s Scar from The Lion King. And if you look closely at the vase painting, you’ll see that Hercules is also sporting the wings of victory!)

Hercules_Killing_the_Dragon_in_the_Garden_of_the_Hesperides,_Palazzo_Vecchio,_FlorenceLadon, the Dragon of the Hesperides: Hera really liked dragons, so in addition to adopting the Hydra, so also adopted the Hydra’s brother Ladon, and set him in her gardens in the mystical west, to guard her sacred golden apples. On one of his final labors, Hercules was dispatched to the Garden of the Hesperides (named after the nymphs of the evening who tended the gardens for Hera) to obtain the apples as a wedding gift for his master’s daughter. Some versions talk about how he tricked the Titan Atlas into obtaining the apples for him, while others speak of how he finally entered the guards and found the horrifying Ladon twisted around the apple tree. The dragon put up a fight, but Hercules eventually slew it by using arrows poisoned with the Hydra’s blood. A day later, Jason and the Argonauts passed by the garden, and they could hear the Hesperides grieving over the dead dragon.

800px-Terracotta_Theseus_Crommyonian_Sow_Staatliche_AntikensammlungenThe Crommyonian Sow: The original Hogzilla, the Crommyonian Sow was a female boar of insane size and viciousness. She was owned by Phaia, an old woman who had long made a living by robbing people passing on the highway. The Crommyonian Sow destroyed the countryside and delighted in eating human beings. This time, both the sow and her owner were killed by Theseus as he made his way to Athens. (Phaia is mentioned in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.)

jason being vomited upThe Colchian Dragon: Another one of Echidna’s alleged dragon children, the Colchian Dragon was obtained by King Aeetes of Colchis to guard the sacred Golden Fleece. Aside from being huge and formidable, the dragon never slept, making him the perfect guard. When Jason arrived in Colchis to take the Fleece, he was assisted either by Aeetes’s witch daughter Medea, who entranced the dragon into sleep with spells and drugs or was lulled to sleep by Orpheus, the renowned singer and Argonaut. One version that’s only known through a single pottery illustration, shows Jason being swallowed by the dragon and then hacked back up, as the goddess Athena waits nearby patiently, probably waiting to say to him, “Okay, are you ready to do this the smart way then?” Some versions say that before Jason encountered the Colchian dragon, he first had to sow a field with dragon’s teeth, from which a phalanx of fully grown, fully armored men sprang up, and that the teeth he used had been shed by the Colchian dragon.

451px-Prometheus_Adam_Louvre_MR1745_edit Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, also known as Adam the Younger (French, 1705–1778)The Caucasian Eagle: Sometimes said to be the child of Echidna, the Caucasian Eagle was a monstrously huge bird that is most famous for tearing out the liver of the chained Titan Prometheus every day as punishment for bringing fire from Olympus down to the mortal humans. Many stories say that on his way to the Garden of the Hesperides, Hercules slew the Eagle and freed Prometheus.

Also, Medusa and Scylla, the beautiful nymph turned hideous monster are both sometimes thought to be daughters of Echidna as well.

When not preying on careless humans, Echidna remained hidden in her caves while Typhon waged war against the Olympians (and nearly succeeded.) Most stories state that around the time that Typhon was defeated, Hera or Zeus dispatched Argus (a giant man covered in one hundred eyes, and was Hera’s champion), into the caves to kill Echidna as she slept, thus ending the creation of more monsters. Other stories say that Typhon was able to cut the sinews in Zeus’s arms and legs, and then trapped the king of the gods in the Underworld, where Echidna or a similar dragon woman named Delphyne guarded him. Zeus was saved when the messenger god Hermes and the goat god Pan stole back the sinews, snuck into the Underworld, and restored them to Zeus.

As cool as all that may be, you might find this most interesting of all; Echidna and her children are likely remnants of an ancient religion that the ancient Greeks not only largely wiped out but also vilified. In fact, Echidna was worshipped as an earthquake goddess and was invoked to protect her worshippers in Phrygia (modern Turkey.) She was also worshipped as a goddess of hidden treasure (most likely that means ores and unmined gems.) The Chimera has been theorized to represent aspects of a mother goddess (the protective lion, the nurturing goat, the wise dragon), and I recently read a theory (which I misplaced OF COURSE) that the Hydra represented the stubbornness of ancient people to give up their goddess-worship (the cutting off of one head and springing up of two more was the process the conquerors had to go through to find and then burn down all the centers of the goddess cults.)

And with all that in mind, the next time you think your mom is a little monstrous, think back to Echidna and be glad she’s not … otherwise, you’d have two or three heads, impenetrable skin, and can breathe fire. Actually, that might be kind of cool.