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Posts Tagged ‘indian mythology’

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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