Myth Monday: The Mother Who Tricked a Tiger (Indian Folktale)

Myth Monday: The Mother Who Tricked a Tiger (Indian Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Tigers are frightening beasts, to be sure, but for the most part a tiger wouldn’t waste time on a human. Humans are too bony, too stringy—not worth the effort of hunting. Really, it’s the old tigers—the ones with brittle claws, with their teeth falling out, too stiff to run down prey, too weak to wrestle deer—that are the problem; the old tigers are the ones that hunt humans.

Still, even an old tiger is terrifying, and most humans can’t tell the difference between a old, fangless tiger and a fearsome creature in its prime just by looking at it. That’s what happened to a farmer named Kulpreet as he was working in his field one morning, guiding his plow behind his two oxen. The field lay at the edge of the dense jungle, and as Kulpreet steered the bulls away from the treeline, he glanced at the jungle, looked back to his bulls for a moment, then back to the trees—and right into the golden eyes of a snarling monster.

Seeing how close the tiger was to him, Kulpreet’s whole body locked up. Even if he could make his legs cooperate, he knew he’d never be able to outrun the tiger standing before him. He was as good as dead.

“No! No, please!” Terrified, Kulpreet dropped to his knees and threw his arms over his head. “Don’t eat me—you can’t eat me! I have a family to take care of!”

Towering over the man, the tiger snorted, its hot, damp breath ruffling Kulpreet’s hair. “Why should I care about your family? Maybe after I eat you, I’ll eat all of them!”

Disturbed by the appearance of the tiger, Kulpreet’s oxen jerked in their harnesses, one bellowing fearfully. The noise drew the tiger’s eye, and it studied the big animals thoughtfully.

After a considerable moment, the tiger swiped its rough tongue over its lips. “You’re not enough to satisfy me, human. Remove the yokes from your bulls. I will eat them instead.”

Any elation Kulpreet had at the thought that he was being spared evaporated in a heartbeat. “My bulls? You can’t do that—I need them for my plow. I can’t farm without them.”

Its fur prickling along its spine, the tiger swung its evil gaze back onto Kulpreet. “Then you suggest I eat you and your family instead?”

“Please don’t! Listen—you don’t have to eat any of us. My wife has a milk cow—it’s young and fat. I’ll give it to you if you leave us alone!”

Pahari_Cow,_Himachal_Pradesh,_India._8_Nov_2020._D35_0908_01 by ADARSHluck

The tiger arched an eyebrow. “A cow, hm? A cow does have more meat on it than your bony self does. Very well—bring the cow back here.”

Elated, Kulpreet looked up. “Thank you, Lord Tiger—”

“Don’t keep me waiting.” Settling down onto the cool, overturned earth, the tiger flicked its head towards Kulpreet’s house. “Go. Now.”

It took Kulpreet several moments for him to regain control over himself, though his legs quaked violently beneath him as he stood. He nodded rapidly, and barely had the presence of mind to untie his oxen and lead them away from the tiger as he rushed home. His mind raced as he ran into his yard, hastily tying the bulls to a post. He was early, but maybe his wife Ishani had left already doing laundry down by the stream. He could grab her cow and bring it to the tiger without her knowing—

Kulpreet’s heart shot to the pit of his stomach as he saw Ishani walking out of the house, their year-old son on her hip, a tied bundle of clothes in her free hand. She was looking down at their baby, a bright, pleased, proud, loving smile across her face. Their son looked up at her adoringly, giggling, his tiny fingers reaching up to stroke her cheek.

Seeing Ishani there like that made Kulpreet falter. She was a wonderful wife, and an incredible mother … she worked so hard, she was so devoted to him and their children …

Hearing him hurrying towards her, Ishani straightened up in surprise. “Back already? I’ve only just started my chores—”

“Where’s the cow?”

Blinking, Ishani hesitated, then waved to the house. “In back, as always. Why? What’s going on?”

Suddenly unable to meet her eyes, Kulpreet hurried to the back yard. Ishani, knowing something was wrong, dropped her laundry, cradled her baby to her and darted after Kulpreet. “Kulpreet! What is going on?”

“I need the cow,” Kulpreet said quickly, increasing his stride to get away from her. “A tiger came to me in the field. It said it would eat the oxen, but I offered it the cow instead.”

“You did what?!” Horrified, Ishani lunged forward and caught her husband’s elbow, jerking him back before he could reach her cow’s pen. “You’re going to give him my cow? How could you? How am I going to cook without butter and milk?”

Griding his teeth, Kulpreet yanked his arm out of Ishani’s grip. “And how am I supposed to grow grain without bulls to plow the field?”

“The children will starve without the cow!”

“The children will starve without the bulls! We need the bulls to plough the fields so we can grow the crops to eat!”

“The baby can’t eat bread yet!” Ishani shouted. “He needs milk! If you weren’t such a foolish coward, you’d think of a way to get out of this mess!”

Outraged by her words—and knowing that she was right—Kulpreet rounded sharply on Ishani. “Then you think of something, since you’re so smart!”

The viciousness in his tone made their son jump in fright in Ishani’s arms, and his bright eyes instantly welled with tears. Seeing the baby distressed, Ishani quickly shushed her son, stroking his head and kissing his cheek until he calmed.

Clutching the infant against her, Ishani turned back to Kulpreet, and the expression on her face was so filled with resentment that Kulpreet drew back in surprise.

Villagers_from_india_15 by Shrinivaskulkarni1388  wikimediacommons

“Fine then,” Ishani bit out, her voice shaking so badly that she could barely form the words. “If I have to think of a plan, then you’re going to be the one that follows the orders. Go back to the tiger right now and tell it that I’m coming with the cow.”

The thought of going back to the tiger without the cow made all the blood drain out of Kulpreet’s face. “But—”

“Say that the cow gave you too much trouble and it only listens to me.” Ishani spun away from Kulpreet. “Now go. I’ll be along soon.”

 Of course, Kulpreet was terrified of returning to the tiger empty-handed, but the look Ishani gave him unnerved Kulpreet even more, so he fearfully went back to the field. The tiger was still there, lying in the shade, its tail curling and snapping open impatiently.

The tiger laid its ears back as Kulpreet hesitantly approached. “I see you but not the cow you promised me,” the tiger snarled.

Gulping, Kulpreet shrank back. “It’s coming, the cow is coming, my lord, it is … my wife has to bring it, it won’t listen to me, I couldn’t make it follow.”

Its eyes blazing, the tiger hauled itself to its feet. “You promised me a cow,” it hissed. “You’ve reneged on that promise, and I am without food. Seeing as how you’re here …”

Suddenly, the tiger’s eyes narrowed, and it lifted its head, gazing out past Kulpreet at something beyond. Puzzled, Kulpreet turned to follow the tiger’s sight. He jerked back in surprise as he saw a white pony cantering across his half-finished field towards them. Astride the pony there was a man, dressed in fabulous robes and a high turban. As the man drew closer, he pulled a sword from a jeweled scabbard at his side and raised it over his head.

“Aha!” the man crowed. “Praise the gods, a tiger! I haven’t eaten any tiger meat since yesterday, and I had three then!”

Hearing those words, the tiger shrank back, its eyes wide in terror. Before the man and his pony were within ten strides, the tiger wheeled around and tore back into the jungle, disappearing into the shadows.

Astounded, Kulpreet watched the tiger flee, then spun around the face the stranger as he reined the pony to a stop. “Thank you, hunter! You have no idea what you’ve done for me—”

“Oh, stop it, Kulpreet,” the man huffed as he slid out of the saddle. “I only did what you were too afraid to do.”

“Afraid? What? Who are …?” Blinking rapidly, Kulpreet stooped down a bit to peer under the stranger’s turban. Seeing those annoyed eyes glaring back at him, the farmer nearly leapt out of his skin.

“Ishani?!” Kulpreet squawked.

Smirking, Kulpreet’s wife Ishani reached up and patted the turban back into place atop her head. She stood before Kulpreet dressed in his finest clothes, his father’s sword hanging from her belt, and their pony stomping its feet impatiently behind them.

Kulpreet’s jaw dangled. “You … you look just like a man!”

“And I acted like one too!” Ishani retorted. “You were too afraid to do anything, and I wasn’t about to let my children starve. I dressed up and thundered in here. And look—the tiger’s gone!”

As Ishani was saying this, the old tiger was indeed running for its life, running so fast and wildly that it almost trampled its lackey, a small jackal that liked to follow in the tiger’s wake to eat its scraps.

Jackal_(5216995231) by Sumeet Moghe wikimedia

Yipping in fright, the jackal dove out of the way, landing nose-first in a clump of fronds. “Lord Tiger! Where are going? Why are you running like that?”

Panting, the old tiger skidded to a stop. “Jackal, we have to run! There’s a hunter in that field over there—he says he ate three tigers yesterday, and he’s coming for me now!”

Arching a dubious eyebrow, the jackal slunk forward a pace, clinging close to the earth so it could not be seen. It reached the edge of the field and huddled down for a moment, cocking its head and listening intently as the disguised Ishani scolded her husband, and Kulpreet fumed, saying that as his wife she should have stayed home and he would have thought of something. Eventually.

Shaking its head in disbelief, the jackal scuttled backwards and trotted back to the trembling tiger. “Ah, my lord, you’ve been tricked—that’s no hunter. That’s the farmer’s wife, disguised as a man to scare you off.”

Terrified, the tiger shrank back. “No, it couldn’t be. That hunter was huge! He was going to eat me!”

The jackal rolled its eyes heavenward. “Ugh. Look, I promise you, it’s just a woman. Are you going to let a tiny human woman scare you away from our—um, I mean, your food?”

“I am not going back.”

“What if I went with you?”

The tiger bared its cracked teeth. “And then? You’d abandon me to be devoured by the hunter?”

The jackal bristled. “I will not. And if you’re that afraid, then let me tie my tail to yours. That way I can’t run away.”

The tiger found this offer to be agreeable, so it permitted the jackal to tie both their tails together, and they strode back to the field side by side. However, by walking this way neither one could fit comfortably on the path, and they wound up walking on the edges, noisily crunching through dried leaves. The sounds betrayed their approach.

At the edge of the field, just as the embarrassed Kulpreet bowed his head and began to agree that his wife was right, both he and Ishani heard the crackle of leaves and spun around. Seeing the tiger and jackal stalking towards them, Kulpreet reeled back in panic.

“Run!” he screamed. “The tiger’s back—it’ll kill us both!”

For a moment, Ishani was stunned; the tiger had run away in terror when it saw her, why would it come back? Peering closer, she saw the small shape of the jackal at the tiger’s side. Their tails were moving oddly, swishing back and forth …

Realizing what the tiger and the jackal had done, Ishani smirked and waved for her husband to calm himself. “Be quiet, will you? Let me take care of this.”


Shushing Kulpreet, Ishani drew her sword and turned to fully face the tiger and the jackal. Grinning, she raised the sword in a salute, and bellowed out in her deepest voice, “Thank you jackal! You captured the tiger for me. Once I’ve eaten all the meat, you can have its bones.”

The tiger slammed to a stop. “I knew it!” it screeched. Before the jackal had a chance to understand what was happening, the tiger whipped around and shot back into the woods, forgetting that their tails were still tied together. With a strangled yelp the jackal was yanked off all four of its paws and was sent bouncing off every rock and tree trunk in the jungle as it was dragged haplessly behind the spineless tiger.

Watching the pair fade away into the forest, Ishani lowered the sword and giggled. “Never tie your tail to a coward’s.”

Standing behind her, Kulpreet gaped. “You … you scared it away again.”

“And judging by the beating that jackal took, I don’t think it’s going to try to convince the tiger to come back a third time.” Sheathing the sword, Ishani looped her arm through her dumbstruck husband’s. “Now, you finish the field. I’m heading home—I still have laundry to do.”

Myth Monday: How the Giants’ Causeway Was Created (Irish Legend)

Myth Monday: How the Giants’ Causeway Was Created (Irish Legend)

By Kara Newcastle

Kara’s Note: Just in case there’s any confusion, the Fionn mac Cumhaill (pronounced ‘Finn Mac Cool’, if you’re wondering) isn’t exactly the hero from the Irish Red Branch sagas, but a different version of him. Still it’s a great story.

Fionn mac Cumhaill was a giant of a man. No, he really was. He was BIG. Big in size, big in fame, big in attitude and, well, sometimes big in mouth. Once in a while that big mouth of his got him into trouble.

Fionn was Ireland’s greatest hero since the days of Cu Culhainn, and because of that Fionn took the job very seriously. When he wasn’t out riding with his band of warriors, the Fianna, Fionn liked to strike out on his own for a bit, checking in on things here and there, making sure everything was in order. It was one of these little jaunts that found Fionn along the coast, looking out over the Irish Sea. There, far out was the land of Scotland. And looking back at him was another giant.

Squinting through the sunlight reflecting off the waves, Fionn raised his hand in greeting. “’Morning, friend!”

The Scottish giant seemed to squint back. “Ye talkin’ to me?” he shouted.

“That I am. I’m Fionn mac Cumhaill.”

The Scottish giant jerked back, then laughed. “Ye can’t be Fionn mac Cumhaill. Ye’re jest a wee thing! Fionn mac Cumhaill is a giant!”

Shocked, Fionn spluttered for a moment—he had never been called “small” before! “Ye must be blind lad—I am Fionn mac Cumhaill, and I’m a sight bigger than ye!”

“Ye’re talkin’ mince. No way are ye bigger than me. I’m Benandonner, the biggest giant in Scotland!”

Fionn snorted. “Ye ain’t much to look at.”

Benandonner sneered and held up one hand. “I got more power in me finger than ye’ve got in yer whole scrawny body.”

“Aye? Well, I got a finger for ye.”

“Away and boil yer head!”

“Bite the back of me bollix!”

Outraged, Benandonner jabbed one of those magic fingers at Fionn. “Shut yer puss or I’ll shut it for ye!”

“I’d like to see ye try!”

Apparently, Benandonner was more than happy to take Fionn up on that, and he promptly reached down, scooped up and armload of rocks and earth, and heaved it out into the sea. Picking up another armload, Benandonner flung that out into the water, creating a path.

Realizing that the Scottish giant was building a bridge and itching for a fight, Fionn began to gather up all the rocks he could find, tossing them out into the water. Both giants worked furiously, constructing a causeway between their two lands with the aim of meeting in the middle and caving each other’s skulls in.

However, as Benandonner drew closer, Fionn was able to get a better look at him. At first, he was just a little speck out on the horizon, but as he grew closer and closer, Fionn noticed a few things …

… The first one being that Benandonner was actually a hell of a lot bigger than Fionn!

Realizing that he was badly outsized, Fionn panicked, dropped his rocks and ran for it, running so fast that one of his boots flew off and remains on the beach to this day. He pelted all the way home at the top of his speed, thanking the gods with every pounding footstep that he didn’t live far. He threw himself through the door, slamming it shut and scaring the life out of his wife Oona as she sat by the fire, baking griddle cakes, his favorite food.

Giants_boot_Dec2004 by SeanMcClean wikimedia commons
Fionn’s Boot, size 800W

Nearly leaping out of her skin, Oona spun around to face him. “Fionn, what the—?!”

“I picked a fight with a Scottish giant and he’s bigger than me and now I’m gonna diiiiie!” Fionn screamed.

Oona flinched back at Fionn’s panic; she had never seen her heroic husband act this way. “Fionn, slow down and tell me what happened?”

Gulping for breath, Fionn scrambled for the crossbeam for the door. “I saw a Scottish giant,” he wheezed as he slammed the bar down. “All I said was ‘hello,’ and next thing ye know, he’s building a bridge across the sea to fight me!”

Oona narrowed her eyes. “Sounds like there’s a piece of the story missing.”

“Doesn’t matter, he’s after me.” Frantic, Fionn spun around, looking for a place to hide. “It’s Benandonner that’s after me—”

“Benandonner? The Red Man? The Thunder of the Mountain? Ye picked a fight with him?!”

Looking at his wife in disbelief, Fionn waved his arms at the door. “Aye, and he’s on his way!”

“Leave it to ye to pick a fight with the most barbaric giant in Scotland.” Shaking her head, Oona turned, scanning their room. Her eyes fell upon the baby’s cradle. She had given birth to their son just a scant few months before, and it was obvious he had inherited his father’s legendary height …

Oona pointed at the cradle. “Get in the cradle.”

Not sure he heard correctly, Fionn stopped short. He looked at her, dumbfounded. “Whu …?”

“Get in the bloody cradle, ye daft edjit ye! Ye’ll just fit. We can make this work.”

Astonished, Fionn looked between Oona and the baby’s cradle. Just as he opened his mouth to protest, a voice from miles away roared, “I’m here, mac Cumhaill! Where’d ye run off to?”

“Bollix!” Fionn squeaked. Without a second thought, the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill leaped into his baby son’s cradle, wedging his head in and tucking his tree-like legs up against his chest. Moving swiftly, Oona tucked the blankets and linens in tightly around Fionn, wrapping his head and beard in a baby’s bonnet. She had just enough time to take one step to the side when a massive fist battered their door, shaking the entire house as though it were in an earthquake.

“Open up!” Benandonner roared.

“Just a wee moment,” Oona replied, her voice mild and pleasant though her eyes shot daggers at her cowering husband. Darting over to the fireplace, Oona grabbed one of her iron skillets and dunked it in the griddle cake batter, coating it thoroughly. Tossing the skillet onto the ashes, Oona swiftly moved to their larder, finding the toughest piece of fat they had. Pulling a stout piece of redwood from the stack of kindling beside the hearth, Oona managed to grab up her hammer and tacks from the mantel as Benandonner resumed beating on the door.

“I said—” he snarled.

“And I said it’d be a wee moment!” Oona shouted back as she quickly nailed the piece of fat onto the redwood, shooting a worried look back at Fionn, whose huge, terrified eyes peeked out over his son’s blanket. “I’m putting my son into his bed!”

Flinging the hammer aside, Oona sprinted over to the door as Benandonner slammed his huge fist into it so hard the wood planks began to warp and bend over the crossbeam. Heaving the crossbeam out of its track, Oona drew in a steadying breath, waited, then whipped the door open, springing aside as Benandonner, already midway through his next punch, overshot his mark and pitched headlong into the mac Cumhaill house.

Gasping, Benandonner staggered, spinning his arms around for balance as he righted himself up. Recovering, the Scottish giant growled and whipped his head back and forth, searching for his rival. “Where’s that bastard mac Cumhaill?”

“Ye mean my husband, Fionn? Oh, he went to the north to hunt deer.” Steadying herself, Oona glided past the glowering giant. “He said something about coming back later to bust in the head of some clod from Scotland. Would that be ye?”

Insulted, Benandonner drew himself up to his full height. “Yer old man’s a bleeding idiot, missus. He looks as though he’d only come up to me gut.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Smiling, Oona pointed to an array of spears, swords, and shields Fionn had mounted on one of their walls. “That there is my husband’s weapon collection. Surely no small man could lift anything so big, aye?”

Studying the weapons on display, Benandonner narrowed his eyes. “Hrmph … I reckon not, no …”

“Fionn is no small man, I assure ye.”

Wrinkling his nose, Benandonner sneered down at Oona. “That remains to be seen, but he’s in no way stronger than me.”

Oona arched an eyebrow. “How d’ye reckon?”

“Oh, I’ll show ye.” Opening the door, Benandonner reached out and plucked a large rock out of the ground beside the path. The rock was easily the size of a yearling calf, and as Oona watched, Benandonner easily wrapped his pinky finger around it and squeezed.

With a head splitting “CRACK!”, the rock shattered, pouring down in a cascade of gravel from Benandonner’s hand.

Oona heard Fionn gulp in the cradle behind her.

Oona fought back a gasp, quickly redirecting her gaze down to the pile of dust and pebbles on the floor between her and the Scottish giant so he wouldn’t see the flash of fear crossing her face. She drew in a shaking breath, forcing herself to calm. “That is impressive.”

Benandonner smirked. “Thank ye.”

“But Fionn has broken so many boulders with his just his little toe that he grew bored with it.”

Benandonner stopped short. “Little … toe?”

Oona nodded. “Aye. He was looking for a challenge, but it was far too easy for him.”

“Bah.” Snorting, Benandonner waved her boast away. “We’ll see about that. Even without my magic finger, I would make short work of that runt.”

“Ah. In that case, why don’t ye wait here a while until Fionn comes home? I’m presently in the middle of making dinner.” Seeing the uncertainty growing in Benandonner’s expression, Oona bit back a pleased grin and gestured to the cradle where Fionn hid trembling under the blanket. “This is here is our son. He was born not quite three months ago.”

Hearing that, Benandonner stopped abruptly, his spine going visibly rigid as his eyes nearly sprang out of their sockets. Shaking his head, Benandonner looked at the quaking lump of blanket and bonnet. “Wait … that’s yer son?”

“Aye, ‘tis.”

The color draining from his face, Benandonner shuffled half a step back. “B-but … if that’s yer son … how big is his father?!”

“Enormous, actually. But worry about that later. Come, have dinner with us.” It was all Oona could do to keep from laughing out loud; Benandonner’s reaction was priceless. Smothering her giggles, Oona picked up her fork and began removing the griddle cakes and the batter-covered skillet from the fireplace, watching out of the corner of her eye as Benandonner, clearly second guessing the size of his foe based on the size of his “offspring,” sat down several feet away from the cradle. Picking up the batter-covered skillet, Oona held it out to Benandonner. “As our guest, ye are welcomed to the first serving.”

“Oh. Thank ye.” Still keeping a concerned eye on the “baby,” Benandonner absently accepted the disguised skillet and lifted it up to his mouth. Without looking, he bit into the iron pan, and instantly his front two teeth shattered.

“AAAARRRGHHH!!!” His massive hands flying to his mouth, Benandonner shot to his feet. Howling, he danced around in a crazed circle, bashing into walls and furniture. “My teeth! I broke my teeth!”

Oona snorted. “On a griddlecake? Dear me, yer teeth must be remarkably weak to break on something so soft.”

“Soft?! It felt like there was an iron bar in it!”

“Well, aye, I do make the cakes with iron,” Oona agreed, doing her desperate best not to burst out laughing at Benandonner’s aghast look. “That’s how my family likes them. But I do feel badly that ye hurt yer teeth. Let me find ye something else to eat.”

The Scottish giant rubbed gingerly at his mouth. “I’m not sure I want to try anything else.”

“Oh, come now. Some bacon will put ye right.” Hefting up the fat nailed to the redwood log, Oona passed it into Benandonner’s huge hand.

Benandonner’s hairy eyebrows went up. “Bacon, eh?” he said approvingly.

Without a second thought, the giant popped the fat wrapped board into his mouth and bit down.

“WHAT THE BLOODY—?!?!” Spitting the wood out, Benandonner threw himself backwards, both of his hands again clapping down on his mouth. “I just broke my back teeth!”

Triumphant, Oona shot a glance to Fionn as he peeked out of the cradle. They grinned briefly at each other before Fionn ducked back under the blanket; this was sure to make Benandonner leave now.

Clucking her tongue, Oona crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. “Oh please. My husband Fionn eats a hundred of these a day without carrying on like yer doing now. Even our son can eat a cake, and he has no teeth at all.”

Furious, Benandonner glared at Oona through watery eyes. “Prove it then!”

“Aye, I will.” Plucking an unaltered cake from the hearth, Oona walked over to the baby’s cradle. “Here, sweetheart, have a bite.”

Inching the blanket away from his face, Fionn grinned at Oona and opened his mouth—then choked back a gag as his wife crammed the griddlecake into it. Fionn gulped it down quickly.

“Mmm! Yummy, Mama!” he squealed, then yipped as Oona, her smiling face unwavering, gave the cradle a swift, jolting kick to shut him up.

Benandonner stared. “I don’t believe it.”

Oona’s smile faltered just barely at the edges; she had hoped this would be enough to scare the giant off, but, shaken as he was, Benandonner didn’t seem ready to leave yet. Recovering herself, Oona shrugged and gestured to the false baby. “Check his mouth and see for yerself then.”

Fionn’s eyes bugged out. “What are ye doing?!” he mouthed frantically.

Setting his jaw—then wincing at the soreness where his two front teeth used to be—Benandonner stomped forward. “All right, I will,” he snarled, and thrust his hand under the blanket.

Seeing the enormous fingers sliding towards him, Fionn cowered back as far as he could in the cradle. Finding no escape, no hiding place there, he did the only thing he could, the thing Oona had prayed he would do.

Fionn opened his mouth wide and bit down on Benandonner’s fingers. Hard.

“GYYYAAAGGGGH!!!” His scream rattling the entire mac Cumhaill household, Benandonner wrenched his hand away, throwing a stream of bright red blood through the air as he flung himself back as far as he could. “Damn it! Damn it—yer brat just bit my magic finger off!”

Baring her teeth, Oona laid a protective hand over the swaddled Fionn. “Don’t ye be talking about my baby that way!”

“No … no, oh no …” Clutching his bloody, mangled hand, Benandonner stared down at the ragged stump in horror. “That’s where I kept all my strength. Without my magic finger, I’m as weak as a lamb!”

“Is that so?” Smirking, Oona nodded her head towards the door. “The ye best be off—Fionn will be home at any moment. He would have made short work of ye anyways, but if ye’re as weak as ye say …”

“I’m going!” Scrambling to his feet, Benandonner bolted for the door, throwing it open so hard and fast he nearly wrenched it off the hinges. Not daring a backwards glance, Benandonner ran down to the beach and over the land bridge he and Fionn had made earlier that day. Benandonner ran so fast that his thundering footsteps caused the bridge to crack apart and sink in the middle, leaving the piece in Ireland intact—as Fionn was a much better builder than any barbaric Scottish giant could ever be.

Seeing Benandonner flee renewed the courage in Fionn mac Cumhaill and he sprang out of the cradle, tossing aside the bonnet and blanket as he charged after the Scottish giant. Upon seeing the land bridge crumble beneath Benandonner’s heels, Fionn realized he couldn’t follow the cur—not that he really wanted to—but he couldn’t just let Benandonner leave without showing off a bit. Hunching down, Fionn scooped up a massive chunk of earth and flung it at Benandonner’s retreating back. Fionn’s shot went wide, missing the giant and landing instead in the Irish Sea, where the larger chunk became the Isle of Man and the small pebble that broke off turned into the uninhabitable islet Rockall. Even though Fionn missed by an enormous amount, the huge earthen projectile was enough to scare Benandonner deep into Fingel’s Cave on the coast of Scotland.

Pleased with his victory, Fionn mac Cumhaill dusted his hands off and turned to head home—stopping short and cowering under the withering gaze of his clever wife Oona.

And that’s how the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland was created.

Myth Monday: The Twelve Horned Witches (Irish Folktale)

Myth Monday: The Twelve Horned Witches (Irish Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

It was late at night, but Fidelma MacDonagh wasn’t ready for bed. Not just yet; she had put her little ones down some time ago, and her weary husband had turned in shortly after that. The maids had decided to go to sleep a little while before, but Fidelma wasn’t ready. She was always something of a night owl, and she valued this time after her family and servants had gone to bed. It was quiet, there were no distractions, and Fidelma could relax. Sometimes she would read by the fire, other times, like tonight, she would sit and work on her embroidery. She liked this time.

Fidelma paused in her stitching to examine her progress. She was adding a border to a dress she had made for her baby girl, Bluisne, all of three years old. Fidelma had wanted to treat her little girl to a new dress—nothing too fancy, as Fidelma was sure the baby would dirty it soon enough—but she wasn’t about to give a plain frock to her baby. No, Bluisne deserved the very best.

It was then Fidelma realized how dark the room had gotten—she had been working for so long that the fire had died down and her candles had melted to almost nubs. Shrugging to herself, Fidelma finished off the stitch and cut the thread, carefully returning her sewing to the basket at her feet. Fidelma stretched, then heaved herself out of her favorite chair. Time to go to bed—

A sound thundered at the front door and Fidelma jolted, a gasp hitching in her throat and her hands flying to her chest and her hammering heart beneath. Stunned, she stared at the door, jumping again when a second round of knocking pounded at the wood. Her eyes widened. Who could it be at this hour? It wasn’t unknown for neighbors to be up and about in the dead of night, but they typically didn’t visit her because they knew her children would be fast asleep. They wouldn’t want to disturb them.

Fidelma’s closest neighbors were the kindly Fitzpatricks from the road, a loving couple well advanced in their age. Maybe it was one of them. Maybe something had happened, and their stableboy had rushed down for help.

Alarm fast dissolving into worry, Fidelma rushed for the door, sliding back the bolt and cracking it open. “Aye, who is it? Is everything well?”

Something shoved hard against the door and Fidelma gasped, stumbling back with the impact. Instinct told her to throw her weight against the door, but it pushed open hard, sweeping her back as though she had been no heavier than one of Bluisne’s rag dolls. Staggering back, Fidelma looked up at the dark figure in her doorway, cursing herself for not bringing a candle with her, for not calling her husband first, for answering the door in the first place. She opened her mouth to demand the stranger’s name, but as they stepped into the light cast by the fire, all Fidelma’s protests died in her mouth.

Standing before her was a tall woman, a woman Fidelma didn’t recognize. She was dressed in a strange gown that hung straight down from her shoulders, and an odd robe swept in behind her as she strode into the house. Her face was pale and sharp, her eyes cold and hard like flint. She carried a satchel in one hand, a hand tipped in long, pointed nails that reminded Fidelma of icicles.

But the one thing that Fidelma could not stop staring at was what was in the middle of the woman’s forehead. From the center of her brow sprouted a single, long, straight horn.

Arching a thin eyebrow at Fidelma’s gape, the strange woman pushed past her, striding straight up to the fireplace. With her free hand, she pointed a finger at the hearth, and the fire roared to life. The woman then turned and pointed at Fidelma’s rocking chair. It slid across the floor towards her, pushed by invisible hands. Huffing, the horned woman gathered her robes around her and sat down, placing her satchel at her feet. Opening the bag, the woman withdrew a pair of carders and a large lump of wool. Placing the wool between the teeth of the carders, the horned woman began to comb out the fibers.

The woman went to work, silently moving the paddles through the knotted wool. Fidelma stared at her, unable to summon the will to move or speak, hardly able to even breathe.

After an endless moment, the horned woman glanced at her. The look was brief, but cold.

“Close the door,” she said.

Fidelma started. “Wh—?”

Huffing through her narrow nose, the woman looked past Fidelma and waved a carder at the door. Fidelma felt an ice-cold wind rush past her, and she jumped with a scream as the door behind her slammed thunderously shut.

Frowning, the horned woman turned back to her wool, combing out the knots and burrs. She continued this way in silence, pausing once to pass the cleaned wool onto the floor.

Her brow furrowing around her horn, the woman looked up at Fidelma. “Where is the witch of the two horns? She takes too long to arrive.”

Fidelma felt her heart drop. “Arrive … where?”

No sooner did the words pass her lips than another series of thunderous knocks rattled the front door. Fidelma screamed and spun around, backing away from the door as rapidly as she could.

The horned woman scowled. “What’s wrong with you? Open the door for your guest!”

Shocked anger shot through Fidelma and, forgetting whom she was speaking to, she rounded on the one-horned woman, her teeth bared. “’Tis no guest of mine!”

A bizarre light danced in the horned woman’s eyes, like a flicker of candle flame passing behind two dark windows. “Open the door.”


A shriek ripped from Fidelma’s throat as something hard and frigid and huge slammed into her, lifting her off her feet. She felt the toes of her shoes dragging across the floor as the invisible creature carried her swiftly over to the door, flinging her viciously against the wood.

The horned witch returned her gaze to her carding. “Open the door.”

Wheezing in shock, Fidelma shook her head, then choked on a cry as the cold thing grabbed her hand, lifted it up and slapped it down on the bolt. It folded her fingers around it as she struggled, holding her hand fast and forcing her to slide the bolt back again.

The second the bolt moved back, the door shot open again, slamming into Fidelma and knocking her back hard against the wall. Her head spinning, Fidelma staggered, barely able to register the form that glided into her house.

It was another tall woman, clothed in the same strange robes. She had two horns sprouting from her head.

The two-horned woman smiled and greeted the first, then beckoned for a chair to slide over to her. She sat down beside the single-horned woman, placed a satchel down by her feet, and from it removed a distaff and more wool.

The pair passed the wool between them, carding and winding, whispering back and forth in volumes that Fidelma could not hear. As she huddled there against the wall where she had been thrown, the door thudded shut of its own accord.

No sooner did the door close than the two-horned woman glanced up at Fidelma. “Where is the witch of three horns?” she asked. “She takes too long to arrive.”

All of the blood in Fidelma’s body turned to ice in her veins. She stared at the horned women, barely able to breathe. “Three horns?” she rasped.

Instantly, knocking hammered at the door behind her. The horned women raised their eyebrows expectantly at Fidelma.

Every inch of her body quaking, Fidelma shook her head hard. “I will not!”

The single horned woman curled back her thin lips. “If you wish to preserve the safety of your family, you will let your guest in.”

There was no mistaking the cold threat in the horned woman’s voice and, tears streaming down her cheeks, Isabel stiffly turned to open the door, admitting in a witch with three horns. For the next hour that was all Fidelma did: she opened the door and admitted another witch in, each with one more horn than the last. Each one entered, greeted her sisters, then sat down with wool and carders, distaffs or spinning wheels that they had conjured out of their bags, laughing and making merry as though they were ordinary women. When the final witch appeared, the tallest one in grand skirts, her head adorned with twelve arching horns, a great cheer went up amongst the witches. “Our queen is here!” they cried, prompting a devilish smile to spring to the face of the twelve-horned witch.

The queen strode into the room, unfurling one long finger and crooking it, as if beckoning for something to follow. Fidelma’s knees nearly buckled from terror as she watched a large loom glide silently through the door, following the twelve-horned witch.

The twelve-horned witch pointed that long finger to the center of the room, and her infernal loom floated forward, coming to a gentle stop before the blazing fireplace. Turning about to take in the progress that her coven had done, the queen nodded approvingly. “Very good, my dears. Let us continue our work.”

Trembling, Fidelma slowly closed the heavy oak door, sagging against it. She waited by the door, expecting yet another knock, and was only slightly comforted when none came. The entire coven must have been there in her home now.

The witches returned to their work and their queen took her place at the loom. They began to sing, a melody of words Fidelma couldn’t recognize, but the tone was vile and shook Fidelma’s very soul. The sound of their voices filled the house as they prepped the wool, passing the yarn to their queen, who began to work the loom with inhuman speed.

So engrossed in their work, not one of the witches spared so much of an eyeblink in Fidelma’s direction. Fidelma swallowed hard, then carefully slid along the wall, edging around the coven until she reached the hallway. Certain that she had not been seen, Fidelma bolted into the dark hall, charged up the stairway and raced first to her bedroom, where her husband slept. Fidelma grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him, doing her damnedest not to scream for him to wake up, lest she alert the witches. To her terror, her husband did not stir, even when she soundly slapped him across the face. He would not wake up.

Her stomach in knots, Fidelma abandoned her husband and ran to each of her children’s beds, shaking them and hissing their names, finding them just as still and silent as their father. As Fidelma tried to rouse the maids awake, she heard a dark voice call up from the floor below, “And where is the lady of the house?”

Her heart seizing, Fidelma shrank down beside the maids’ beds. She dug her fingernails into the bedpost, fighting to slow her breathing. Her mind raced; everyone in the house must have been under some sort of spell. She couldn’t wake them—she would have to leave them behind and run to the Fitzpatricks’ house, send the stableboy there to get help. The thought of leaving her children and husband behind made her want to die, but—

“It would please us greatly if ye would join us, Lady MacDonagh.”

It was the voice of the twelve-horned witch. Fidelma bit her lip hard; she did not want to go back down there …

Pain riddled through her body and Fidelma choked, her eyes blasting open as she felt her legs beginning to straighten, her fingers scraping as they pulled away from the bedpost. She struggled, feeling that ice-cold presence forcing her to stand, pivoting her around to face the doorway of the maids’ room.

“Come down, or we will make ye come down.”

Tears springing to her eyes again, Fidelma bit out, “All right! All right, I am coming down.”

A chorus of cruel sniggering answered her, but the presence instantly released its hold on her body, causing Fidelma to stagger forward. Quickly raking the backs of her hands over her eyes, Fidelma took a trembling step, moving back into the hallway, down the stairs, returning to the main room, though every fiber of her being screamed for her not to.

The witches were still gathered there, but they had paused in their work, each of their heads turned expectantly towards Fidelma as she hesitantly entered. The twelve-horned queen leaned against her loom, smiling frigidly. On the loom, Fidelma could see a blanket or banner of some sort, ornate with dark colors. Fidelma could clearly see that the yarn the witches had spun had not been dyed, and that they had already assembled several feet of cloth in a matter of moments, whereas it would have taken ordinary women several days to accomplish so much. It renewed the terror within her.

“Lady MacDonagh,” the twelve-horned witch said. “I would be most appreciative if ye would be kind enough to serve refreshments to me and my coven.”

Fidelma knotted her fingers in her skirts, hoping that would stop her hands from shaking. “Ye … ye are welcomed to any wine I have.”

The witch queen’s smile widened. “Nay. We would like water.”

The request stopped Fidelma short. For a moment, all of her fear evaporated, and she stared at the queen in confused disbelief. “Water?”

“Aye.” Lifting her clawed finger, the twelve-horned witch pointed first in the direction of Fidelma’s kitchen, then snapped it back to Fidelma. Fidelma jerked back in fright as something crashed loudly in the dark confines of her kitchen, then screamed in terror as a small object came hurtling out, flying across the room and smashing into her chest. It pressed hard against her, driving her back up against the wall until her hands flew up and grabbed it, tearing it away from her body.

Stunned, Fidelma stared down at the object in her hands.

It was her metal sieve.

“Collect well water in that and bring it to us,” the twelve-horned witch said.

Fear flaring into anger, Fidelma snapped her head up. “I can’t possibly collect water in a sieve!”

“Do yer best.” Grinning, the twelve-horned witch gestured to the front door, and it roared open on its own. Again, that cold presence slammed into Fidelma, barreling her forward across the room and out the door. All around her, the horned witches cackled in delight.

As she reached the threshold, the presence gave Fidelma one hard shove and she flew forward, crying out as she fell heavily onto the flagstone pathway, the sieve sent spinning out of her hands. The witches’ laughter grew louder and more horrible as Fidelma scrambled to her feet, snatching the sieve off the ground. Beside herself with fear, the poor woman stumbled towards the well in her front yard, not knowing what else to do.

Senselessly, Fidelma picked up the wooden bucket and heaved it over the tall lip of the well, feeling the rope burning through her palms as it passed. As soon as she heard the bucket plunge into the water, Fidelma wrenched it back up, tipping it over into the sieve. The cold water sluiced through the holes of the sieve, pouring back into the well and saturating her dress. Panicked, Fidelma threw the bucket back into the water, filled it, pulled it up, and dumped the water back into the sieve.

As the water streamed back out, Fidelma heard the queen of the witches shouting from her home, “Don’t tarry long, Lady MacDonagh—we need drink to go with our cake!”

Alarmed, Fidelma spun around, seeing the witch and each of her twelve horns illuminated in her doorway by the snarling fireplace behind her, making her look as though she stepped straight out of hell. The sight made Fidelma recoil. “C-cake? I have no cake in my house.”

The queen grinned wickedly. “No, my dear Lady MacDonagh, but my sisters and I are making our own … sweetened with the blood of yer family.”

Fidelma’s heart stopped dead in her chest. “No!”

“Oh, ‘tis just a wee bit. They’re all sound asleep and did not feel a thing.” The queen nodded her ugly horned head towards the well. “We are waiting for our drink.”

“I can’t fill a sieve with water!”

Unperturbed, the queen witch shrugged. “Then perhaps we should sate ourselves with the rest of your family’s blood,” she said mildly.

Without another word, the twelve-horned witch turned and walked back into house.

All of the strength seeped out of Fidelma and she dropped like a stone beside the well, burying her face into her hands and sobbed, screaming in despair. How did this happen? What could she do? Her family was going to die!

“Fidelma …?”

The voice was soft at first, so soft that Fidelma couldn’t hear it over the sound of her own weeping. It spoke again, louder, insistent, and yet gentle. The soothing sound, so alien after all that had happened that night, jarred Fidelma out of her tears and she froze.

“Fidelma … listen to me …”

Horrified, Fidelma wrenched away from the well. God Above … the voice was coming from the well!

Kenneth Allen / Well at Meenreagh / CC BY-SA 2.0

“Don’t be afraid,” the voice said, echoing softly up out of the confines of the well. “I am the spirit of the well. You have heard of beings like myself.”

Sure that she had lost her mind at this point, Fidelma stared at the well, blinking stupidly. “I … a-aye. Since I was a child.”

“Then you know that we seek to help good people such as yourself. I can help you save your family and drive the horned witches from your home forever.”

Shocked, Fidelma sprang to her feet. “Ye can? Oh, please, spirit! Help me save my children and husband!”

“I will. Listen to me closely, Fidelma. The first thing you must do is line the sieve with clay and moss, and then draw my water and fill it.”

Fidelma didn’t stop to question, but immediately set to work. She scraped up clay from her yard and peeled moss off the stones of the well, packing them into the holes of the sieve and then filling it with water. “Aye? What now?”

“Take the water and approach your home from the north. Go inside and say, ‘the mountain of the Fenian women and the sky over it is all on fire!’ This will drive the witches out of the house. You must then go to your children, and wash their feet in the water. Pour the water over the threshold of the house, then seal the door with a crossbeam. Feed your children and husband pieces of the blood cake, then take the banner the witches were weaving, and place it half in and half out of a locked chest. This will undo all their evil. Can you do this, Fidelma?”

Her hands tightening on the handles of the sieve, Fidelma nodded. “Anything for my family.”

Taking a deep breath, Fidelma approached the house from the north. Reaching the open door, she braced herself, then shouted inside, “The mountain of the Fenian women and the sky above it is on fire!”

 The queen witch’s voice shrieked, “Whaaaaaat?!”, and instantly all of the coven began to scream in horror. They all swarmed out of Fidelma’s house, crying out in horror, leaping into the air and swooping away like birds in flight, soaring towards their mountain home. Wasting no time, Fidelma raced inside and ran to her children’s rooms with the well water. She bathed each of their feet, then took the water and poured it over the threshold, as the spirit of the well instructed. Slamming the heavy door shut, Fidelma dropped the massive crossbeam over it, then turned and ran to the witches’ loom. There she found their wicked banner, pulled it free of the loom and rushed to one of her chests in the far corner. She stuffed half of the banner into the chest, leaving the other half hanging out. Closing the lid, Fidelma then fastened a weighty lock on it.

Hurrying to the fireplace, Fidelma recoiled at the sight of one of her cake pans set on the coals, filled with a dark red cake. Carefully pulling it free, Fidelma carried the cake to her husband and children, breaking off pieces of the cake and sliding them into their mouths. Instantly, the spell was broken, and everyone who had been under the sleeping spell roused themselves awake.

Before Fidelma could take a moment to rejoice and tell them what had happened, an eerie shrieked rattled every inch of the house. From outside, Fidelma and her family heard the twelve witches shouting, “She tricked us! She broke our spell and locked us out!”

What sounded like twenty-four fists all began pounding on the barred front door. “Blast you!” the queen of the witches shrieked. “Let us in!”

Herding her bewildered husband and children behind her, Fidelma faced the door and shouted, “Never! I broke yer curse. Ye can never enter here again!”

“How did ye know? Who told ye what to do? Wait … The well has a guardian spirit doesn’t it?! She told ye what to do! Curse ye both! Blast ye both to hell!”

Outraged by their defeat, the witches took to the air again, screaming obscenities at the Spirit of the Well as they departed. The twelve horned witches never returned to Fidelma’s home, but the following morning, Fidelma discovered that one of the women had dropped their cloak as they fled from the home. Fidelma hung it as a trophy, and it remained within her family for five hundred years.

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.



Myth Monday: Nu Wa, the Snake Mother (Chinese Myth)

May 13, 2019

Kara Newcastle


In the beginning, only two beings lived upon the newly formed Earth; the half-human, half-snake god Fu Xi, and his sister-wife, the half-human, half-snake goddess Nu Wa. Together they created the plants and the animals, and Nu Wa herself created ten gods from her own organs … but Nu Wa found herself to be strangely lonely. Feeling that she would feel better with a child, Nu Wa and Fu Xi attempted to create one, but their attempts only resulted in a formless lump of flesh. Nu Wa became so frustrated with her loneliness and inability to create life with her husband that she decided to travel the world to take her mind off of things … only to grow more lonely because the world was so empty.

One day, Nu Wa paused to rest beneath a tree beside the great Yellow River. Glancing down into the waters, she saw her own reflection and smiled at the pretty sight. After a moment, her eyes trailed down to the river’s banks, and she noticed the rich clay that had gathered there, deposited by the river’s currents. Her curiosity piqued, Nu Wa reached down and gathered up a handful of clay, kneading it between her fingers, working it into various shapes.

Looking back down to her reflection, Nu Wa studied her appearance, her human form as it was from the waist up.

“I wonder,” she said, turning back to the clay in her hands, “if I could shape this into a living being? Then I could have someone to talk to, and I wouldn’t feel so alone.”

Curiosity turned to excitement, and Nu Wa gathered more clay, working the formless lump into a figure, modeling its top half after her own appearance. As she moved below the figure’s hips, Nu Wa considered forming the bottom half into a serpent’s tail, much like her own, but then decided against it. She rolled out two appendages, things she called legs, then pinched the ends over, creating feet.

Delighted with her creation, Nu Wa set the figure on to the riverbank and sat back to admire it. As she smiled lovingly down on the figure, it slowly opened its eyes. It blinked, then took a deep, uncertain breath. Raising its head up, the new being saw Nu Wa. It smiled and held its arms out to her.

“Mother!” it joyously cried.

Jubilant with her success, Nu Wa scooped up more and more clay, fashioning more and more of the creatures—the first humans—as rapidly as she could. She created women and men, girls and boys, made some tall, some short, some thin, some large, gave them various features and different voices. Each of these humans adored Nu Wa, and she loved them all as her children.

In time, Nu Wa realized that she was beginning to tire. She had formed hundreds of these humans out of clay, and she was nearly overwhelmed with the need to make more, but the process was becoming more and more tedious. Still, it hurt her to not finish, to not make more children. She wanted more.

“Perhaps there’s a faster way to make them,” Nu Wa mused. Pivoting around atop her sinuous snake body, Nu Wa scanned the riverbank around her and her new children, searching for something that could assist her. Seeing a vine twisting its way around the tree she sat beneath, Nu Wa reached out and pulled it down. Dipping one end into the clay, Nu Wa then whipped the vine in the air over her head, spraying clay everywhere. Wherever the drops landed, new human beings sprouted. These humans became peasants, while the ones that Nu Wa created by hand became nobles.

Even this proved to be exhausting, and, lowering the vine, Nu Wa was struck with an incredible idea; instead of creating more humans herself, she would have her new creations make them for her! Nu Wa granted her new humans the ability to copulate and give birth, and taught her human children the institution of marriage, so that their children would grow safely and honorably.

Nu Wa remained in her children’s lives for many years, protecting them from the Yellow River’s floods, and teaching them how to build dams and irrigate their fields. She and her husband Fu Xi ruled the humans as queen and king, and after Fu Xi passed away, Nu Wa ruled on her own for many years longer, successfully defending her children from the malicious Kung Kung when he sought to overthrow her, and then using the five stones of the elements to repair a hole in the sky left by a bad-tempered dragon. When her time on Earth was complete, Nu Wa climbed a ladder into the Heavens and disappeared from sight, but she continues to watch over her human children, and the humans of China have never forgotten their beloved Snake Mother.

Myth Monday: Kuzunoha the Fox Mother (Japanese Legend)

May 23, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

The young nobleman Abe no Yasuna paused to take in the scenery around him. He had left home earlier that day to ride to the shrine of Inari, the god of rice, fertility and success, and he was sure that he was drawing nearer—the forest was quite beautiful, surely a blessing from Inari.

Yasuna pressed his snorting horse harder, urging it to speed up its gate as it trotted through the woodland, drawing closer to the shrine of Inari. He smiled, relieved that his destination was so near—

Branches and brush thrashed wildly and Yasuna’s horse started, rearing back and whinnying in fright. Startled, Yasuna jerked back hard on the reins, pulling the horse’s head back under control, urging it to set its stamping feet back on the ground again. Alarmed by the crashing of the underbrush, Yasuna reached for his sword. What in the world ….?

Panting wildly, a white fox shot out of the kudzu trees at the side of the road. It scrambled to a frightened stop before Yasuna’s horse, its hackles standing on end. Its tongue lolling out and sides heaving, it stared fearfully at Yasuna, then snapped its head around, looking back into the forest. A man’s voice shouted from the woods beyond.


Gasping, the fox spun around to face Yasuna. “Help me!” it shrieked.

His heart seizing, Yasuna jerked back in his saddle, his hand instinctively clamping down on the wrapped grip of his katana. The fox—it spoke to him!

Looking back over its shoulder, the terrified white fox burst into a run, springing into the undergrowth on the right side of the road . Just as the fox vanished into the growth, a sweating horse barreled through the trees from the opposite side, snorting angrily as its rider, a huntsman, pulled back hard on its reins, stopping the beast in the center of the road.

Scanning the road around them quickly, the huntsman snapped his furious eyes up at Yasuna. “You there! Did you see a white fox come through here?”

Yasuna straightened. He remembered the terror in the fox’s eyes, in its voice when it spoke to him, and he frowned at the hunter. “You would hunt a fox so close to Inari’s shrine? Don’t you know that the fox is Inari’s sacred animal?”

The hunter glared at him. “I need fox livers for medicine.”

“Let this one go. Inari would be angry if you hurt it.”

“Mind your own business, fool!”

Fury flooding through him, Yasuna drew his katana, pointing the razor tip at the huntsman. “This is my business now. Take your hunt somewhere else!”

“You dare—!” His face burning with rage, the huntsman drew his own sword, wheeled his horse around and charged at Yasuna, howling like a demon. Yasuna instinctively kicked his own horse into a gallop, his katana meeting the hunter’s own, the blades screaming against each other. They fought for what felt like hours, slashing and parrying, leaping down from their mounts to charge one another on foot. The huntsman was better trained than he appeared, and he tore open several deep slashes before then scoring a thrust at Yasuna’s ribs, punching open a bloody wound. Barely registering the pain, Yasuna pivoted and struck hard, the impact of his sword ripping the huntsman’s weapon out of his hands, sending it spinning off into the woods.

Wheezing for breath, Yasuna stepped back, planting one hand to his bloodied side as he extended his sword arm out, fitting the tip beneath the wide-eyed hunter’s chin, just barely pressing it against his throat.

“I will not kill you here, not so close to the shrine,” Yasuna rasped. “But if you continue to pursue the foxes here, I will take your life.” Lowering the sword, Yasuna backed a few cautious steps away, then waved the blade towards his opponent’s horse. “Leave.”

Aware at how close he had come to death, the huntsman didn’t argue. He sputtered a sort of thanks to Yasuna for his mercy, then turned and hurried to his horse, swinging up in the saddle and kicking it hard, racing away from the young warrior.

As the hunter disappeared over the crest of a hill, Yasuna finally began to feel his wounds and he staggered, hissing in pain. Awkwardly sliding the katana back into his scabbard, Yasuna winced, looking down at the blood on his hand, wondering how he would get back on his horse, if he would be able to make it to the shrine in time to find help.

“Um … e-excuse me?”

Startled, Yasuna snapped his head up in the direction of the soft voice. He blinked, his eyes widening in amazement as a woman—the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life, wearing the most exquisite silk kimono decorated with kudzu leaves—stepped uncertainly out of the woods. She hesitated at the edge of the road, her fingers nervously running through her waist length black hair. Her eyes widened when she saw the blood coursing down the front of his robes. “Oh, you’re hurt!”

“It’s nothing,” Yasuna said, though he was aware of how strained his voice sounded. “It’s just a … well, actually …”

Clearly not fooled by his bravado, the woman shook her head and hurried towards him, taking his free arm and draping it over her head. “Stop it. You need help.”

Yasuna opened his mouth to protest, but a wave of vertigo swept over him, weakening his legs. Grimacing, he allowed the woman to support his weight. “All right.”

“You live near here, don’t you? I’ll help you get home and treat your wounds.” Carefully turning Yasuna around, the woman helped him hobble back down the road, keeping one arm tightly around him, the other reaching for the reins of his horse as they walked past. She glanced up at him. “I saw you save the white fox. That was very brave of you. Inari will be pleased.”

Despite his mounting pain and weakness, Yasuna felt his cheeks flush at her words, and he smiled down at the beautiful woman beside him. “What is your name?”

Her own cheeks turning a shade of peony pink, the woman smiled shyly back up at him. “Kuzunoha.”

It took a bit of time, but Yasuna and Kuzunoha reached his home and Kuzunoha worked quickly to make him comfortable, treating his wounds, caring for him and his household until he recovered. Yasuna, already in love with the beautiful Kuzunoha, worked hard to regain his strength, and as soon as he was able to, he married Kuzunoha. They were completely devoted to each other and soon they had a son they named Seimei.

Seimei was unusual from the start. He looked like an ordinary boy, but it was clear early on that he was phenomenally smart and talented, more so than any child his age. Yasuna was beyond proud of his son’s intellect. Kuzunoha was proud as well, but often, when others weren’t watching, she would look at her son with a worried and knowing expression. When Seimei began to communicate and command spirits, Kuzunoha’s worry increased.

One beautiful day in early summer, Kuzunoha wandered through her gardens as five-year-old Seimei marched along behind her, stopping frequently to study various rocks and insects he came across. As Seimei paused to examine a stone, Kuzunoha bent down a bit to sniff at a lovely chrysanthemum flower. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Seimei freeze, staring at her, his mouth agape.

The boy blinked hard. “Mother?”

“Yes darling?”

“Why do you have a white fox tail?”

Horrified, Kuzunoha stood straight up and spun around. She stared in shock at her son, who only looked back at her in confusion.

Kuzunoha had to work to get her voice to come out of her throat. “What … what did you say?”

Disturbed by his mother’s reaction, Seimei hesitated, then timidly pointed to the hem of her kimono. “I saw a white fox’s tail peeking out when you were smelling the chrysanthemum. Why do you have a fox’s tail?”


Kuzunoha’s hands flew to her mouth, stifling a gasp; Seimei had somehow seen her true form. She was a kitsune, a fox with the ability to transform into a maiden. So long as she had been able to keep her true identity a secret she had been able to live happily with her family … but now Seimei had seen, and the power was undone. She had to return to the forest.

Devastated, Kuzunoha went to Yasuna’s teacher, the famed Kamo no Tadayuki and told him of her plight. She begged Tadayuki-sama to become Seimei’s teacher, to guide him and keep him from turning evil. Tadayuki solemnly agreed.

Kuzunoha then waited until nightfall when her husband and son were asleep, then removed her kimono and transformed back into a white fox. Unable to bear the thought of abandoning them completely without an explanation why, Kuzunoha picked up a calligraphy brush in her slender jaws, dipped it in ink, then trotted over to a nearby silk screen and wrote,

“If you love me, darling, come and see me.

You will find me yonder in the great wood

Of Shinoda of Izumi Province where the leaves

Of arrowroots always rustle in pensive mood.”

Stifling mournful sobs, Kuzunoha dropped the brush, slipped out of their home and ran away into the night.


The next morning Yasuna woke to find his cherished wife had vanished. Frantic, he searched all over the house until he came across the poem written on the silk screen. Reading the beautifully painted words, the memories came roaring back and Yasuna, shocked, realized that Kuzunoha was the white fox he had rescued.

Taking Seimei’s hand, Yasuna raced back to Shinoda, and as soon as they reached the shrine of Inari, father and son began to call for Kuzunoha, begging for her to come out. No sooner did they stop to take a breath than a beautiful white fox came bounding out of the shrine, her eyes filled with happy tears. Yipping in joy, she raced up to them, rubbing her fox body affectionately against their legs, standing up and planting her front paws on them and licking their hands and faces. When Yasuna and Seimei asked her to come home, Kuzunoha’s ears wilted and her tail drooped.

“I am so sorry, but I can’t,” Kuzunoha whispered, tears running down her vulpine face. “Now that my true form has been revealed, I have to return to the forest. I love you, I love you both desperately and believe me when I say that I don’t want to leave … but this is the way it has to be. I am the spirit of this shrine. I have to stay here now.”

Heartbroken, Seimei and Yasuna nodded, saddened but understanding that none of them had any power to change this situation. They embraced and petted and kissed Kuzunoha, Seimei promising to never forget his fox mother. As farewell gifts, Kuzunoha magically produced a golden box and a crystal ball for Seimei and Yasuna, and granted upon Seimei the power to communicate with all the world’s animals before sadly turning away and loping back into the shrine, never to be seen again.

In time, Abe no Seimei grew to become Japan’s greatest onmyōji (court scholar) and accomplished great feats of magic. The screen that the fox maiden Kuzunoha wrote her goodbye poem as donated to the Inari Shrine in Shinoda, and can still be seen there today.

Myth Monday: The Ghost Mother (Danish Fairy Tale)

May 14, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

Okay, so this isn’t maybe the happiest of fairy tales, but it happens to be one of my favorites. I couldn’t remember all of the exact details, so I changed a few things, but the story is the same—a tale of a mother’s undying love for her children.

Once upon a time not very long ago lived a Danish earl and his beautiful young wife. The pair loved each other and were parents to three beautiful children. Sadly, the young mother’s health was poor, and not long after giving birth to her last baby, she developed childbed fever and died. Before she passed away, she took her husbands hands into her own rapidly chilled ones and begged him to look after their children, to love and care for them and protect them from wickedness … and promised that if he didn’t, she would come back to set things right.

The earl was devastated by the loss of his wife, and the children were brokenhearted without their loving mother. After a while the earl found his loneliness unbearable and was saddened to see his children without a mother, so he resolved to remarry. In time he met another young woman—charming, fantastically rich, from a powerful family and even more lovely than his first wife—and he fell helplessly in love. So helplessly, in fact, that he swiftly married her and became so entranced that he forgot about his children.

The new wife, however, did not forget about the earl’s young children. She couldn’t forget about them because she hated them so much it nearly drove her to madness. She couldn’t stand that she was supposed to be caring for the whelps of another woman. She thought the children were dirty and repulsive, their high voices like cat’s claws on her ears, constantly underfoot, constantly wherever she was. She hated when her new husband would stop paying attention to her to tend to his children, so she worked as hard as she could to make the earl so obsessed with her that he had no time or interest in his family. As the earl became more neglectful, the stepmother became crueler, taking away the children’s clothes and giving them rags to wear, feeding them pigsty scraps, beating them, taking away their beds and making them sleep together on a pile of moldy straw in the stables, sharing a ratty blanket. The stepmother effectively drove them out of their own home, and if the earl noticed, he was too enamored of his new wife to care.

The children cried themselves to sleep every night, fearing the day their stepmother would end their lives, wondering why their father had abandoned them like this. Huddled together on their bed of straw, the children hugged each other, wept, and prayed, and whispered to each other memories of their mother, their real mother, the one who had loved them more than she had loved her own life. Remembering her was the only joy they had left in this world.

One cold, wet night, as an angry storm rumbled in the distance, a stable boy made his way back to the hayloft where he slept at night. Carrying his lit candle, the young man paused outside the old stall where the earl’s children slept, as he did every night since they had been banished there by their wicked stepmother. He pitied them, but didn’t dare to say anything to the earl; the new wife’s wrath was legendary, and the earl was always too eager to do whatever she demanded, just to keep her happy. The stable boy didn’t want to lose his job—or his life—by complaining about the children’s mistreatment, though it always filled him with guilt.

As he stopped outside the stall, the stable boy raised his candle higher to shine light on the sleeping children … but what he saw froze his heart in horror, making him nearly drop the lit candle on the straw-covered floor. Terrified, he stared at the black form as it hunched down beside the three sleeping children, running its long fingers gently through their hair as it moved to each one. It bent down, the matted curtain of its dark hair tumbling down, brushing each child’s face as the thing pressed its gray lips to their foreheads before sitting up, reaching over, and pulling a heavy white quilt over them. The thing shivered, its shoulders hitching, and a sound like a sob ground out of it.

Before the stable boy could work his dry mouth, the figure stood up, moving smoothly, seeming to uncoil itself like a cobra. It stood erect, slowly turning its gray, tear-streaked face to him, and the boy reeled back, choking on a scream.

It was the earl’s dead wife!

The boy staggered, blinked once, and instantly the ghost was gone, leaving the violently shaking stable hand there with the three sleeping children, each tucked under the quilt, a small smile on their faces.

As the boy fought to regain his senses, the earl and his new wife were asleep in their ornate bed in their finest room. Unlike the children, the couple were warm and dry and comfortable—until something woke them up. They didn’t hear anything, nothing nudged them, but they both woke up instantly at the same time, strangely worried.

The fire continued to burn brightly in the hearth, but the room was frigidly cold, so much so that the earl and the stepmother could see their own breath. As they sat groggily up, they both became aware of an odor wafting around them, faint at first, growing increasingly and rapidly stronger. A smell of earth, of something strangely sweet and musty at the same time …

Instantly, cold dread seized the couple, and in unison they both looked to the foot of their bed, finding the curtains there had been pulled back. A figure stood there, silhouetted against the fire behind it. Its head hung low, long, snarled hair hanging down either side of its shadowed face like a tangled net. Its shoulders were heaving, as if it were barely able to contain its rage.

Alarmed and angry, the earl shouted, “How dare you come into our rooms while we sleep! Who do you think you are? Tell me what you’re doing here!”

A wet, rasping noise filled the room—the sound of the thing taking a breath. Its hands, held rigid at its sides, curled its twig-like fingers up as it slowly lifted its head. Two dull spots of light, like fading stars, stared at the couple, the gaze deep and cold and unrelenting.

The thing sucked in another hoarse breath. “I told you what would happen if you didn’t care for my babies.”

The earl froze, his eyes growing huge, the blood racing away from his face. He knew that voice …

With a rattling snarl, the ghost of the earl’s dead wife lifted her leg and stepped up onto the mattress of what had once been their bed, stalking towards the couple. Terrified, the stepmother screamed, scrambling back as much as she could until she slammed into the headboard, unable to escape. All the earl could do was shake his head in horrified denial as the rotting corpse of his first wife strode towards them, leaving a trail of clotting blood and rotting flesh on his blankets as she approached.

Unfurling a skeletal finger, the ghost lifted her arm and pointed at her faithless husband and his cruel bride, the skin hanging from her arm in strips. Her bloodied, lidless eyes bulged out around the pit in the center of her face where her nose had been, once perched above a mouth whose lips had decayed away, unveiling sneering, yellowed teeth.

“I warned you!” the ghost screamed. “I warned you that if you did not care and protect my children, then I would come back and avenge them. You did not keep your end of the promise, so now I am fulfilling mine!”

Hysterical with fear, the earl finally shrieked in terror and spun away, throwing himself into the arms of his wildly sobbing new wife, both of them begging for mercy, vowing to make up for all the evil they had done to the ghost’s children, swearing to it, begging her to leave …

And just like that, the ghost vanished. The room warmed, the smell of decomposition faded away, the rotting flesh and bloodstains disappeared. The earl and his second wife huddled there, clinging to each other, both too fearful to risk a look, to see if the vengeful spirit had actually departed. As soon as they could summon the courage, the pair leapt out of bed and raced down to the stables, scooping up the sleeping children and rushing them back to their rooms.

From that moment on, the earl never neglected his children again, and their stepmother showered them with love and devotion for the rest of their lives. They never saw the spirit of the children’s mother again … though whenever the earl grew distracted, or the stepmother became the least bit harsh, a cold breath would flitter across the backs of their necks, and invisible, clawed fingers dug into their bodies to remind them that the children’s true mother was always nearby to protect them, that even the depths of the grave could not keep her from the ones she loved.

Myth Monday: Rhea, Mother of the Olympians (Greek Mythology)

May 8, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


Eons ago there was nothing. Just a black void, called Chaos. There was no reality. There was no existence.

Then, without warning, there was a burst of light within the darkness, and forces were created, entities came into being. One of these entities was the great Gaea (Gaia), the Mother Earth. Gaea in turn birthed her son and consort, the sky god Ouranos (Uranus.) Ouranos fathered many children upon Gaea, including the Titans, a race of huge people who could control elements of nature. Their youngest Titan daughter was called Rhea.

In time, Ouranos became disgusted with his other offspring—the Hecatoncheires (the Hundred Handed Ones), and the Cyclopses (giants with only one eye in the center of their foreheads)—and tried to seal them all back into Gaea’s womb. This caused Gaea so much pain that she summoned her youngest Titan son, Kronos (Cronos), tasked him with killing his cruel father, and gave him a scythe made of adamantine to complete the deed. Kronos did as he was asked, but before he finished slaying Ouranos, he used the scythe to cut off Ouranos’s genitals and tossed them into the ocean. With his last gasping breath, Ouranos cursed his treacherous son: “As you do to me, so will be done to you.”


Now that the Titans and their kin were freed, they installed Kronos as their king in gratitude. Kronos chose Rhea to be his wife and queen, and together they ruled from the top of Mount Olympus. All seemed right in the universe … but Kronos could not forget the curse his father put upon him. What if it came true? What if Kronos’s son overthrew and mutilated him as well? The thought terrified Kronos so much that he was determined to do anything it took to prevent the curse from coming to pass.

And then Rhea became pregnant with her first child. She gave birth to her daughter, the future goddess of the hearth and home Hestia, and proudly presented the baby to Kronos—only to watch in horror as Kronos opened his mouth wide and swallowed the infant whole!


This was Kronos’s solution to evading the curse—he would consume each of his children, keeping them locked away inside his body where they could be guarded for eternity. You may think that all he had to do was stop having sex with his wife, but he refused; it was his right as a man to have sex. He wasn’t about to give it up.

Soon, Rhea became pregnant again, this time with her son Hades, the god of the underworld. Ouranos demanded to see the child, and though Rhea fought and begged, the Titan king still took the baby away and ate him. He did the same with his daughter Demeter, the goddess of the harvests, and with his son Poseidon, the god of the seas. By the time his youngest daughter Hera, the goddess of marriage and family was born, Ouranos would position himself at the foot of Rhea’s bed, ready to consume the baby as soon as it was born.

In time, Rhea discovered that she was pregnant yet again. Determined to save this child, Rhea went to her mother Gaea and implored her for help. Gaea, already angry with Kronos’s tyrannical ways and his mistreatment of her other non-Titan children, told Rhea to hide on the island of Crete. There, on the slopes of Mount Dictys, Rhea began to gave birth to her final child. In agony and struggling not to scream and betray her location to Kronos, Rhea dug her fingernails into the soil. From the furrows her huge fingers dug came the Kabeiroi, the dragon-humanoid gods of metallurgy (they are also known as the Dactyls, either because they all had six fingers on either hand or because they were created from Rhea’s fingers.) The Kabeiroi rushed to Rhea’s aid, and helped her deliver her son.

Following Gaea’s advice, Rhea hid her newborn son in a cave with three nymphs, one of whom was Amalthea, who would turn into a nanny goat to suckle the child and it is said that either Rhea or her son placed Althea in the stars as the constellation Capricorn in gratitude, and her son wore Amalthea’s goat-skin as his armor or aegis. Rhea also assembled a garrison of humans called the Curentes who would sing loudly and bang their swords and spears against their shields to drown out the young god’s crying. Once she was certain that her baby was safe, Rhea returned to Mount Olympus …

But first, she took a large rock and wrapped it in swaddling clothes and blankets.


Striding into the palace, Rhea was immediately set upon by an outraged Kronos, who was furious that she had vanished on him. Seeing the swaddled figure in the Titaness’s arms, Kronos realized that Rhea must have given birth out of his sight and was now returning with their child. Ripping the bundle out of Rhea’s resisting arms, Kronos lifted the “baby” to his mouth and swallowed it whole. Rhea launched into a fit of devastated sobbing, but when Kronos turned his back she smiled, knowing that she had successfully saved one of her children.

Many years later, a handsome young man and his wife, the Titaness Metis (Thought) appeared on Mount Olympus, petitioning for a position in Kronos’s court. Kronos did not recognize the young man, but Rhea instantly knew who he was; it was her youngest son, Zeus, the only child she was able to save. Secretly taking Zeus aside, Rhea explained that he had to overthrow Kronos and his allies, but he would not be able to defeat him without help—specifically, his sisters and brothers, still trapped in Kronos’s belly. Metis, Zeus’s wife, mixed a poison that Zeus then slipped into Kronos’s wine when the Titan king wasn’t looking. Kronos began instantly, violently ill and first vomited up the stone Rhea had tricked him into eating (which flew from Mount Olympus and landed in the city of Delphi, where it was kept enshrined), and then Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hades and Hestia, all fully grown. They, along with Zeus, were the first Olympians.

The war between the Olympians and the Titans, called the Titanomachy, lasted ten years, and as Zeus cut Kronos down with the adamantine scythe, just as Kronos had cut down Ouranos, Kronos laid the same curse upon Zeus: “As you do to me, so will be done to you.” Zeus became king, married his sister Hera, and found his own solution to avoid the curse: he never got Hera pregnant. Instead, he chose to have extramarital sex with various Titanesses, goddesses, nymphs and human women, thus fathering a huge generation of demigod heroes and second generation Olympians (such as Apollo and Artemis.) And while Rhea was not happy with her son’s philandering—and his frequent abuse of his powers as king of the gods—she was proud to be the mother and grandmother of the Olympian gods and their golden age.