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

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

By Kara Newcastle




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Brewing Eggshells (Irish Folktale)

May 29, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

There are such things as fairies, you know. There are many of them, many different kinds, hailing from different kingdoms, but all of them are suffering. Their numbers are dwindling, and many of the elders take sick with a wasting disease that fairy magic cannot treat. Fearing for the loss of their race, many of the Fair Folk have sought for ways to build up their populations and to care for their ill.

It is common for fairies to kidnap humans, particularly beautiful human babies, which they then rear as their own in their realms, and when they reach adulthood, the children marry fairy ladies and lords, bringing new life to the bloodlines. When the fairies discovered that their sick members could receive some measure of healing by eating human food, it became customary for the Bright People to take a human infant, disguise a sick fairy as the baby, and then leave the fairy in the baby’s place. They felt it was the best course of action, as they were taking a healthy child away from its family without its parents’ blessing—by switching the baby with a sick fairy, called a changeling, the human parents would never know the difference.

Unfortunately, an ill fairy is one of the orneriest creatures on earth, short-tempered and vicious, taking delight in tormenting its horrified adopted family and devouring as much as it could lay its hands on.

This is what happened to Mrs. Sullivan.

Mrs. Sullivan had a beautiful, healthy baby boy, her firstborn, and she loved him more than words could describe. She showered affection on the infant, and he was the happiest baby in all of Ireland … until one morning when Mrs. Sullivan woke and found her boy sitting up in his cradle, fixing her with a look that made her blood curdle. That vile stare followed her around the house as she worked, filling the home with an eerie coldness. He did not smile or babble as he used to, never held his arms out to her.

The baby sat and glowered at Mrs. Sullivan and her husband until the couple sat down for dinner, and when he saw what they were eating—and that he wasn’t getting a taste of any of it—he threw such an unholy fit that the combined strength of Mrs. Sullivan and her husband couldn’t pin the infant down. The baby, who was a scant six-months-old and barely able to roll over, stood and leapt out of his cradle, tearing around the house, smashing crockery, flipping tables, kicking hot coals out of the fireplace, screaming devilishly at the top of his lungs, until the terrified Mrs. Sullivan gave him some food to eat.

This behavior went on for days, growing worse with each hour. The baby would sit in his cradle, giggling maliciously as windows mysteriously cracked and plates shattered, the rocking chair would gallop wildly by itself across the room, doors would lock Mr. Sullivan out and Mrs. Sullivan in. The baby would rock itself wildly in its crib, howling until Mrs. Sullivan fed it. It would snarl at Mr. Sullivan and raise an ungodly sound if the man received his dinner first. After Mr. Sullivan woke up one morning to find that clumps of his hair had been torn out, he bolted from the house, refusing to come back in until they found a way to get rid of this evil child.

Distraught, Mrs. Sullivan went to her neighbors, begging for help. Those that didn’t cross themselves and hurry away would cross themselves and recommend that she heat a pair of metal tongs in her fireplace and pinch the baby’s nose with them to drive the devil out. Others suggested that she throw the baby into a pot of boiling water. Some said she should just beat the lousy brat until it behaved.

Sickened, frightened, at a loss without her husband and unable to bring herself to harm this thing—for that’s what it was, a thing, not her beloved son, she knew it—because it looked too much like her child, Mrs. Sullivan sat out on her front stoop as the creature napped inside and buried her face in her hands, stifling sobs. She was at her wit’s end … and out of food. The thing had eaten everything in the house. She had nothing left to give it, and she was terrified of what it would do when it found out.

Oddly, something caused Mrs. Sullivan to look up. She hadn’t heard anything, but something drew her attention to her garden wall, as though her name had been called. Seeing who stood there, Mrs. Sullivan sat up with a jolt, choking on a gasp.

Just outside her garden gate stood Ellen Leah. Everyone said Ellen Leah was a witch … and secretly, Mrs. Sullivan believed it. Despite her silvery hair, Ellen looked to be no older than thirty, and she had looked that way since Mrs. Sullivan’s grandmother had been a child. No one knew where Ellen lived or how she traveled, always seeming to just … materialize … out of nowhere. Her clothing was strange, her black skirts high above her ankles, a wine-red corset wrapped around her torso, a soft black fringed shawl draped loosely over her bare shoulders. A long, slim dagger hung at her left hip, a bulging leather pouch at her right, and a silver triskelia hung on a fine chain around her neck.

Ellen nodded her head. “Good morning, Mrs. Sullivan,” she said. She smiled, bit it seemed tinged with … pity. “How are ye?”

“I …” Swallowing hard, Mrs. Sullivan nervously glanced over her shoulder to the closed door of her house, hiding the monstrosity inside. “I …”

Ellen nodded again. “Aye. I’ve heard.”

A shock of disbelief bolted through Mrs. Sullivan. “Ye have …?”

“Aye.” Ellen leaned over the wall. “I know what it is,” she whispered.

Her eyes flying open, Mrs. Sullivan shot to her feet and raced to the garden gate. “Ye do? Ye know about it? What it is?”

Her flawless brow furrowing, Ellen held up a hand, motioning for Mrs. Sullivan to lower her voice. “I heard all the talk. ‘Tis a changeling ye have there, dear. The Bright People took yer son and left a sick fairy in his place for ye to care for ‘til it recovers or dies.”

Feeling her knees buckle, Mrs. Sullivan dug her fingernails into the wood slats of the garden gate. “What will they do to me child?”

“They’ll raise ‘im to manhood and marry ‘im to a fairy lass.” Seeing the question in Mrs. Sullivan’s huge eyes, Ellen sadly shook her head. “Ye’ll nay see ‘im again. The fairies never let their captives go freely … unless ye can expose the changeling.”

Confusion and horror tearing through her, Mrs. Sullivan stared at the witch. “Expose it? How?”

A mischievous smile spread slowly over Ellen’s face. “Ye’ve got to trick ‘im into revealin’ who he really is. Once he’s shown himself to be a fairy, he has to return yer baby.”

“W-what if he won’t?”

“Oh, I have a plan for that. Listen carefully …”

As soon as Ellen Leah finished whispering the instructions to Mrs. Sullivan, the woman thanked and blessed the witch for her kindness, then ran to her chicken coop, gathering up what few eggs she was able to find in her apron. Rushing back into her house, Mrs. Sullivan set the eggs down next to the hearth, built up the fire, and stuck an iron poker in the embers. As the iron grew red hot, Mrs. Sullivan then took her copper kettle, filled it with water, and placed it on the hook next to the flames. Finally, taking a bowl, she knelt down beside the fire and began cracking the eggs, tapping them on the hearth stones, emptying the yolks into the bowl, and dropping into the shells into the boiling kettle.

With all the noise she made, Mrs. Sullivan woke the creature up, and it peered blearily over the edge of the cradle at her. Seeing the woman toss the egg shells into the water, the thing blinked, then sat up straighter.

After a moment of watching, it said, “What are ye doin’, Mammy?”

The voice that spoke to her was not the voice of a child. No, it was the haggard voice of an old man, and Mrs. Sullivan nearly froze in terror. Resisting the urge to turn and look at the beast, she instead dumped the yolk out of another egg and tossed the shell in. “I’m brewin’, me son.”

“Brewin’ what, Mammy?”

“Ale, me son.”

“What are ye usin’ for the ale, Mammy?”

Drawing in a steadying breath, Mrs. Sullivan reached down and wrapped her hand around the handle of the iron poker, drawing it out a span. It was glowing red hot.

She swallowed hard. “I’m brewin’ eggshells for the ale, me son.”

“WHAT?!?!” Outraged, the changeling leapt to his feet. “Never in me five thousand years of existence have I heard of a woman brewin’ eggshells for ale! Why, I …! I … uh … I mean …”

His secret revealed, Mrs. Sullivan instantly clamped down on the poker and ripped it free of the fire, spinning around and leaping to her feet, facing the petrified changeling. “Give me back me son, ye horrid—!”

Horrified at the sight of the poker—iron alone was enough to kill a fairy, and a red hot one wouldn’t have made the death any easier—the changeling screeched and threw out his hands. Something at Mrs. Sullivan’s feet moved—the bowl of egg yolks, sliding across the hearth—and the poor woman planted her heel in it. Her foot shot out from under her and Mrs. Sullivan slipped, falling to her knees with a cry of pain, the iron poker flying from her hand and clattering thunderously to the floor beside the cradle.

Seeing the changeling duck back into the cradle, Mrs. Sullivan bared her teeth and lunged, grabbing up the poker again, catching the side of the cradle and jerking it towards her. She rose up sharply on her knees, raising the smoking iron over her head—

Surprised, her sweet baby boy stared up at her. Blinking once, he smiled and cooed, reaching his soft arms out for her. Overjoyed to have her child back, Mrs. Sullivan threw the iron back into the fireplace and gathered her baby to her.

Soon word spread of how Mrs. Sullivan outwitted a changeling. Her husband returned, and their lives returned to normal … and the fairies thought twice about stealing any more babies.

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.