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Posts Tagged ‘gods’

Damn, it’s been a busy week.  I had a convention this weekend, made and put up some new jewelry, even did two days of heavy editing before submitting to a publisher briefly open to unrequested manuscripts.   Finally, it’s Wednesday, a day when I don’t have to do a damn thing. A rest before I go back to my day job on Bourbon Street Thursday.  Maybe I’ll take a nice long bubble bath.

 

… Shite, I’m forgetting about the blog again aren’t I?

 

All right!  First blog, then bubbles.   Wouldn’t want things to slither on by me, so today I’m going to just play for scale.  Today I’m going to talk about a creature both fearsome, and sacred.   Let’s look at the naga.

 

From Indian mythology, naga are often depicted as female, but the male versions definitely exist.  At essence, they are snake people, cobra people most traditionally.  Shapeshifters who can be human formed, snake formed, or anything in between.  I mean anything.  Giant snakes, little snakes, lots of snakes.  Snakes with just human heads, humans with snake bottom halves done mermaid style.  In some of the more Eastern varieties (Naga will show up in Cambodia and the Philippines and many other places where Hinduism is spread) they take the form of a great serpent with multiple heads, hydra style.  Pretty much you name it, this lot can do it, and unlike a lot of more western creatures, the variants are not seen as separate monsters or species, just the naga trying on new forms.

 

Why such versatility?  Because in most texts the naga are semi-divine beings.  They are often considered immortal.  True immortal too, not Greek god immortal where you can still one with a sword.  They are outside of the Wheel, and have connections to the many gods and often step into the role of priests or intermediaries between humans and the divine. Besides their immortality, they can heal wounds and poisons, predict the future, and kill with venom or just a powerful glare. In some tales they are just a step less powerful than the devata and right on par with the apsara.

 

The exception comes with Garuda, the big eagle-god of the son.  Big surprise, eagles and snakes don’t get along.  In Garuda oriented texts, the naga get all the negative attributes of snakes.  Venomous, untrustworthy, preying on the week and helpless.  They are still useful and powerful, with naga able to do everything from control the whether to bring fertility to lands and women.  But damn it, don’t you side with those lousy snakes or eagle will claw your eyes out!

 

As usual, I’m highly biased.   Both sides probably have lots of ass holes to choose from, and the occasional good ones.  That is true for Every damn critter on my blog.  The proportion of good ones to ass-hats is one of my qualifiers for if I like a beastie.

 

Traditionally naga are often represented with a jewel or pearl for their bindi or third eye.  This is a symbol of their power, and yes there are a few stories of people hunting them for the pearl.  It’s a great tool for divination and may be their source of immortality.  Of course, you’ve got to overcome a literal den of vipers, will probably piss off a few gods, and there is always the karmic backlash on the next turn of the wheel.  But hey, if you really manage immortality, you don’t have to worry about that last one do you?

 

Like many creatures, there are similar beings in most cultures.  There is a particularly nasty legend in China of a snake with a woman’s head, and it is both an old story and a modern urban legend, which yells immortal to me.  There are snake people of the Amazon, and of course a host of medieval demons associated with snakes that have that half-and-half look of the naga.  Not to mention Greek variants like the lamia.

 

Most of those stories lean a lot more to the nightmare version than anything define.   Often it depends on how a particular culture views snakes, some seeing them as deadly and dangerous, some seeing them as a source of wisdom. The (insert name) of South America are just like any other tribe, keep out of their way and respect the customs and you should be fine.   Screw up and it’s fangs for the memories.

 

I’m also seeing a shift over time as cultures blend.  A Chinese concept seems to be filtering West to India, in which new naga are made by snakes getting curious and turning themselves human.  This shows up with a lot of animal types in Asia, including kitsune and tanuki in Japan.  I’m not sure how much traditional roots the concept has, but it’s actually a fun idea to play with.  The original naga were obviously just their own species, but big surprise, not many mythologies out there on exactly how they go about breeding. If they leave their clutches out in the wild like a lot of snakes, maybe it takes the wee little buggers some time to grow intelligent and ‘curious’ enough to sprout legs.

 

Of course, the young, curious sorts are bound to cause trouble.  Young curious sorts always do.

 

Writing Prompts

No… I won’t suggest naga breeding programs.   I will however suggest a story where a snake and eagle are in marriage counseling.

 

So want an Indiana Jones story where his current girl is actually a naga, but we’ll never get the rights.

 

Am I the only one who wants a pair of naga skin boots?  Hey, they’re immortal, they’ll heal won’t they?

 

 

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I almost put these critters off a few weeks, because they are similar in a lot of ways  to the fey.  In fact, some modern traditions lump them together, and I can definitely see why.  Still, there are enough differences and things that you just may not have heard to make them worth a separate post.  Besides, sometimes I have the soul of a very dirty old letch, and so you might just be surprised on my take on the inspiration to letches everywhere, the nymphs.

Nymphs have their origins in Greek myth, then adapted later by the Romans like every other myth the Greeks had.  Yet like many other beasties I talk about you can find similar if not identical ideas all over the world.  And I don’t just mean naked young women who run through the forests, although they certainly are that.  Nymphs really are more than just the outside appearance, though it’s hard to remember that after studying histories written by thousands of years of peeping toms.

First of all, there are more types of nymphs that most people think about.  The basic five categories are celestial, underworld, sea, land, and tree.  That’s right, there were enough nymphs running around that you needed categories for them, and even within those categories there were different subgroups.  Like the branches of tree nymphs (pun intended as always). Dryads were specifically the nymphs of oak trees, and meliae were the nymphs of the ash.  Even then there were different levels of nymph, some who were connected to a single grove, some who were bound to a single tree.  The hamadryad would die if you cut down her specific tree, but some of her sisters would be fine as long as their grove survived.

Nymphs, depending on the variety, age, and individual traits, were somewhere between elementals and genius loci.  They were bound to one place, and connected to it in ways that weren’t exactly clear to humans.  It may simply be a chicken and egg problem, does a nymph reflect her land or the land reflect its nymph? Of course, there were a few free range nymphs, mostly of the celestial and underworld variety, who traveled on the winds or in the retinue of various gods.   Most of the pretty young women in the background of the different depictions and portraits of the gods were nymphs just hanging about. Which type of nymph showed up depended largely on the god involved, and of course any visiting god would draw out any local nymphs.

And the nymphs had some of the similar origins as the gods.  Many sprang straight from Gaea after enough blood from various suitors was spilled on her.  To that matter, some nymphs didn’t stay nymphs.  Charybdis was a nymph of the waters before she was transformed, or chose to transform, into a horrible ship eating whirlpool monster.  Scylla might or might not have had the same bag.  The older the nymph, the more individualaity they seemed to posses.  Starting out childlike and quite frankly a bit dumb, joyful but dumb, and slowly growing in wisdom over their semi-immortal existence.

And on that note, lets talk about sex.  Yay sex!  It’s great isn’t it?   Oh wait, I mean lets talk about the sexual connotations connected to nymph lore.  Everyone knows nymphomania got it’s origins from those sexy, slutty nymphs right?   Well… kinda.  Most nymphs danced and sang and splashed in their waters without a stitch on, and this certainly attracted a great amount of attention.   However, as minor goddesses in their own right, you could run into some major trouble spying on them for too long.  You could be struck blind or mad, fall into a deep obsession, and occasionally just die or get transformed into something icky.   Yes, it’s true that nymphs would sleep around, with gods and each other, man, woman,  and occasionally beasts.  They were nature spirits, unfettered by human morality.  However, they are most often described as beautiful maidens, because though a few slept around, mostly they were content to dance and sing and play.   They weren’t succubi, screwing anything that came there way.  In fact, few if any human men got their attentions, and satyrs, centaurs, faun and the like usually had to run the nymphs down and force the issue.  The nymphs were lovely and easy targets, but not the hypersexual creatures that they are made out to be now.

Oh yeah, and keep in mind the time frame.  Depending on if semi-immortal spirits like nymphs adapt with the times or not, they could still look like beautiful maidens, in the very Greek sense.   Meaning you would be lucky if they look older than thirteen, ten to twelve is probably far more likely.  Spirits do get affected by perceptions, so perhaps they might change to a more modern standard of beauty, but there is a good chance that ‘jailbait’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s interesting how many cultures have a belief of humanoid figures attached to nature.  We call it anthropomorphizing.  Humans tend to define the world in human terms, and see it in human forms.  Yet, it’s surprising how often the idea of the young woman in the trees, or rivers, or air shows up as well.  Nymphs are symbols of creativity and freedom, of innocent abundance.  So little of human nature is that innocent, it seems odd how often those particular sets of symbols still crop up.

Writing prompts.

The nymph Olympics.  Hey the original affair was men only, times change.

Missionaries desperately trying to clothe and educate the nymphs.  Lots of luck folks.

Lots of people have used deformed nymphs to show the affects of pollution.  Lets go the other way.  How does a nymph react to a wind farm?  Or a solar farm?  What are the Hover Dam nymphs like?

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