Yggdrasil is a massive tree at the centre of Norse Cosmology which links and shelters the Nine Worlds. It is thought to be an eternal green ash tree whose branches stretch over the homeworlds and extend above the heavens.
The Underworld, also known as the Otherworld or Netherworld, is featured in most mythologies around the world. It is a realm of the dead, where the souls of the recently departed go in their afterlife. Many versions of the Underworld are seen as places of abundance and joy, and reward for good work during their mortal life.
World mythologies call the Underworld by several names:
Celtic – Annwn, Mag Mell, Tír na nÓg, Hy-Brasil, Ablach, Sídhe mounds
Norse – Hel, Niflheim, Valhalla, Gimlé, Vingólf
Greek – Hades, Elysium, Tartarus, Asphodel
Roman – Inferno, Avernus, Orcus/Hades, Pluto
Egyptian – Aaru, Duat, Neter-khertet, Amenti
Christian – Heaven, Hell
In the Celtic world, the Underworld was known by many names. The Welsh concept of the Underworld was known as Annwn, a world of delights and eternal youth ruled by Arawn/Gwyn ap Nudd. In Irish mythology, Mag Mell (‘delightful plain’), was a place of pleasure thought to be a mythical island far off the west coast of Ireland or a kingdom beneath the ocean (similar to the realms of Hy-Brasil or Emain Ablach).
Tír na nÓg (‘land of youth’) or Tir Tairngire (‘land of promise’) is another Irish concept of the Underworld, an earthly paradise of supernatural beings and a few lucky mortals who were invited to stay. Similar to Mag Mell and Hy-Brasil, Tír na nÓg was seen as a place far to the west of Ireland, on the edges of the map, which could only be reached by an arduous journey or by a special invitation. Famous residents of Tír na nÓg was the mortal Oisín who was brought by Niamh of the Golden Hair (Niamh Chinn Óir), as well as one of the places settled by the Tuatha Dé Danann after being banished from Ireland.
Another concept of the Underworld comes from the sídhe, or faery people, of Ireland. It is thought that when the Milesians (Celts) invaded Ireland, they banished the Tuatha Dé Danann who then took refuse in the sídhe mounds. These mounds can still be seen today in the form of barrows or hollow hills (cnocs) which are inhabited by faery rulers such as Knockma, Finvarra, or Ainé.
The concept of the Underworld in Norse Mythology is related to the World Tree, Yggdrasil (Germanic Irminsul). It was thought that brave warriors would be chosen by the Valkyries to travel to Asgard to join Odin in Valhalla or Freyja in Fólkvangr.
The base of Yggdrasil is the home of the Underworld realms of Hel/Helheimr and Niflheim/Niflheimr. Hel was the Land of the Dead, ruled by the goddess Hel, daughter of Loki. When humans were not accepted to Valhalla or Fólkvangr, they went to Hel’s hall Elivdnir. Niflheim was a place of Ice and Fog, the lowest of the nine realms, and has been associated with the region of Hel.
There was also Gimlé/Gimli, a beautiful place where survivors of Ragnarök (the end of the world) were thought to live. Also described as the golden roof of a building in Asgard where righteous men go when they die, similar to Vingólf, one of the buildings of the gods.
In Greek Mythology, upon death the soul was separated from the corpse and transported to the entrance of Hades. Hades was either at the outer bounds of the ocean or beneath the depths or at the ends of the earth.
Tartarus was similar to Hades in that is was far beneath the earth, and was the place where Zeus cast the Titans after defeated them, along with his father Kronos who became king of Tartarus. The Fields of Punishment was where those who wreaked havoc on earth or committed crimes against the gods were banished. The Fields of Asphodel was where ordinary souls who did not commit crimes nor achieve any greatness would inhabit.
The Elysian Fields, or Elysium, was where the souls of those who especially distinguished went after death, particularly those who were associated with the gods or performed exceptional feats. While in Elysium, the soul had a choice to either stay or be reborn. If the soul achieved Elysium three times, they were sent to the Isles of the Blessed to achieve eternal paradise.
Also in Greek mythology, there were five rivers that flowed in both the real world and the Underworld. The River Styx was the most prominent Underworld river, also known as the ‘river of hatred’, and was thought to circle the Underworld seven times.
© A Year And A Day (2013)
Thor is the Norse god of thunder, also associated with oak trees, strength, protection and fertility. ‘Thor’ comes from the Germanic word for ‘thunder’, thus he is associated with thunder, lightning and storms. He is often viewed as a fierce warrior with red hair, a red beard, and eyes like lightning. He is likened to the Greek hero Heracles through his strength and skill in battle, as well as the Roman god Jupiter and Teutonic god Donar.
Thor was the son of Odin through the jötunn (giant) Jord, however his mother was also thought to be the earth goddess Fjörgyn. He was married to fertility goddess Sif, whose long golden hair was cut by the trickster god Loki. Thor’s mistress was the giant Járnsaxa (“iron cutlass”), which whom he had sons Magni and Modi, and daughter Thrud.
Thor’s home was Bilskinir, located in the region of Asgard called Thrudheim / Thrudvangar (“place of might”).
It was thought that Thor rode through the heavens on his chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, which was responsible for the sound of thunder during a storm. The lightning bolts, called Thorsviggar, were produced when Thor threw his large hammer Mjölnir. Thor also wore a belt of strength named Megingjardir, iron gloves named Járngreipr, and carried the staff Gríðarvölr.
Thor was responsible for the protection of mankind as well as protecting the Aesir gods from the frost giants. He was involved in several fierce battles, especially with his greatest enemy, the Midgard serpent named Jörmungandr. On the day of Ragnarök, the end of the world, Thor will finally defeat his enemy, however later die from its poison.
Thor is very popular in Germanic and Norse mythology, and his hammer was seen as a symbol of defiance of the Christianization of Scandinavia. He was worshipped especially in Uppsala, where his father Odin can be seen standing at his right side. Some suggest that Thor surpassed Odin in popularity due to the fact that worship of Thor did not require human sacrifice.
The day Thursday bears his name (“Thor’s day”), just as Týr/Tiu was the namesake of Tuesday, Odin/Woden was the namesake of Wednesday, and Frejya (or Frigg, according to some sources) was the namesake of Friday.
© A Year And A Day (2013)
There are many forms of triple, tripartite or threefold deities in ancient mythology. Some are seen as a triad who always appear in a group (such as the Norse Norns, the Greek Fates, or the Roman Matres), while some are seen as a single deity having three aspects (such as Greek Hecate).
For example, Brigid is seen as a triple goddess in Irish mythology, functioning as the patron of poetry, healing and smithcraft. The Irish Morrígan is also seen in triplicate, as Badb, Macha, and Nemain. Triple deities are not constrained to goddesses, as seen through the association of Celtic Lugh with Gaulish gods Esus, Toutatis and Taranis.
Many Wiccans see the Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone. The Maiden represents youth, new beginnings, purity, virginity, independence and innocence. The Mother represents ripeness, fertility, sexuality, stability, protection and growth. The Crone represents old age, wisdom, change, endings, transformation, banishing, death and rebirth.
These aspects also follow the phases of the moon, with the Maiden corresponding to the waxing phase, the Mother with the full moon, and the Crone with the waning moon. The fourth phase, the New Moon, can be seen as the Dark or Unseen Goddess.
This Triple Goddess concept can be associated with the Greek moon goddesses; Artemis, virgin Goddess of the Hunt, Selene, Goddess of the Moon, and Hecate, Goddess of the Underworld.
It has been disputed as to when the traditional ‘Maiden-Mother-Crone’ concept first appeared. Robert Graves wrote about the Maiden-Mother-Crone Triple Goddess as well as their lunar associations in his book The White Goddess (1948). However historian Ronald Hutton insists that there was no mention of a Maiden-Mother-Crone goddess figure in ancient mythology. Robert Graves could have reinterpreted the traditional 3×3 goddesses of Greek and Roman origin, represented by three maids, three mothers or three crones.
Whatever its origin, the Triple Goddess concept in Wicca can help us relate to our different aspects and remind us we are part of a greater whole. Each stage of a woman’s life cycle represents a way we can embody the Goddess and make the physical body sacred, which is not present in traditional patriarchal religions.
© A Year And A Day Wicca (2013)
The Theban Alphabet, also called the Witches’ Alphabet, is a system of writing which is thought to have originated in the 16th century. It is first mentioned in medieval alchemical manuscripts by Polygraphia (1518) and Agrippa (1531), attributing the alphabet to Honorius of Thebes. Thus, the Theban Alphabet is also called the Runes of Honorius or the Honorian Alphabet. However some say the absence of characters such as ‘J’, ‘U’ and ‘W’ denote a possible connection with pre-11th century Latin, as those letters were not used until much later.
Whatever its origins, the Theban Alphabet appears to have been used as an alchemical cipher. Because it abstracts the writer’s native language, it forces the writer to concentrate on the inscription and task at hand, making Theban useful for magic and ritual work. The Theban Alphabet is used often for making talismans, and some Wiccans use Theban as a way to disguise the writings in their Book of Shadows.
© A Year And A Day (2013)
The raven is associated with mysticism, magic, shapeshifting and creation. Raven’s black plumage, haunting caw, and scavenger diet has led the raven to become a symbol of bad omens and death. However, the meaning behind raven is often contradictory.
Raven features prominently in the mythology and folklore of many cultures. The raven appears several times in the Bible and Talmud, as well as the Icelandic Sagas. Ravens were often seen as a symbol of good luck in Greek mythology and were the god’s messengers in the mortal world.
Raven, like the coyote, was seen as a mediator animal between life and death. As a carrion bird, similar to crows and magpies, ravens have become associated with the dead and lost souls. Because of its close association with the crow, the raven shares many correspondences with the crow, including magic and mysticism.
In Greek mythology, ravens and crows were associated with Apollo, the god of light and prophecy.
The Norse god Odin had a pair of ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory), who acted as his messengers and ‘eyes and ears’. Every day the two ravens flew from Hlidskialf to bring Odin news from Midgard, the mortal world. Odin was also thought to shapeshift into a raven himself.
In Irish mythology, ravens were associated with warfare and the battlefield. The goddess of warfare, Badb Catha, translates to ‘battle crow’. Badb was associated with the Morrígan, whose appearance was a symbol of imminent death or could influence the outcome of the war. In the form of a crow, the Morrígan often appeared flying above the battlefield, inspiring either fear or courage in the hearts of the warriors below.
Ravens were also associated with the Welsh god Brân the Blessed, king of Britain, whose name means ‘crow’ or ‘raven’.
In the Pacific Northwest, raven is known as the creator of life to many indigenous tribes. In one aspect, raven is thought to have created life and brought order, however another aspect was known as a trickster god, selfish, sly and conniving.
Ravens are very vocal and can be taught to speak. They can even mimic the calls of other species. In that respect, raven can help you to understand the language of animals. They also have strong association with shapeshifting and possess the knowledge of how to become other animals.
Ravens are also playful and excellent tool users. They are not intimidated by other birds and are fast and wary.
The time of greatest power for the raven is the winter solstice and the winter season. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, which is symbolic of the black raven. Raven teaches us how to go into the dark and bring forth the light.
Raven gives us the opportunity to become the magician or enchantress in our own lives, bringing forth the magic within. Raven speaks of messages from the spirit realm that can shapeshift our lives.
© A Year And A Day Wicca (2013)
Persephone is a Greek vegetation goddess, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter (Roman Ceres). Also known as Kore or Proserpina, she was also Goddess of the Underworld.
Demeter searched for nine days for her daughter, however was told by Helios what had really happened. Hades had abducted Persephone, with the permission of Zeus, and brought her into his Underworld realm to be his bride. Demeter, angry and grief-stricken, rejected the world of the Gods, and withheld her gifts of fertility so that no crops grew.
Zeus finally gave in and commanded Hades to release Persephone. Unfortunately, Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds while in the Underworld, which bound her to remain in that realm. As a compromise, Persephone was allowed to spend part of the year with her mother on earth.
It is thought that the time Persephone spent with her mother was a time of joy, where Demeter would allow the earth to bloom with flowers and life. However the time when Persephone was in the Underworld, the world was dark with very little growth and life, acknowledging Demeter’s pain and suffering. This represents the seasons, the bountiful spring and summer, and the dark bleak winter. Through this, Persephone/Kore was called ‘the Maiden’ and represented spring’s bounty.
Persephone and Demeter are central figures in the Eleusinian Mysteries, initiation rites held in the city of Eleusis based on the cycle of death and rebirth. The Mysteries became very popular and promised life after death to initiates.
Sometimes Persephone and Demeter are thought to be two faces of the same goddess. Also, Kore (‘the Maiden’), Demeter (‘Earth Mother’), and Persephone (‘Destroyer of Light’), can also be thought of as the classic Maiden, Mother, Crone triple goddess figure, from birth to death to rebirth.
Persephone was usually depicted as a young springtime goddess, holding a sheaf of grain and a flaming torch.
© A Year And A Day (2013)