Archetypes of the mother and the grandmother are some of the most sacred ones in all cultures. Life would not exist without mothers. In myths and legends across the world, we can find powerful grandmother figures. They represent the crone aspect of womanhood and had dual roles being connected to aging, dying nature and to the powers of the underworld. These grandmother goddesses are caring, wise, supporting and powerful matriarchs. Like grandmothers are in real life.
Great Grandmothers of the Samoyed
The saami´s, native people of Lapland of Scandinavia worshiped a goddess called Madderakka. She was the embodiment of the earth. Madderakka and her three daughters were mainly worshiped as goddesses of giving birth and creators of life. According to the legend, Madderakka received the soul of the child from Radien the god of community. It was her job to give the breath of life to the child and connect child´s body and soul together. Samoyeds worshiped a goddess called Kodanakkagoddess who makes the earth and the kuola-saami´s into a goddess called mändir-ähken which means grandmother of father or mother. Mändir-ähken was an ancient grandmother who had been buried in the ground. She was worshiped by the female members of the family asking her to assist them in giving birth.
Akka Finnish Goddess of the Earth
In old Finnish language, Akka was an honorary term that was given to a woman who had reached very high age. There are areas in northern Finland where words akkaand akku mean grandmother but in modern Finnish akka mainly means an old hag? What happened?
The story of Akka began 7000 years ago when Baltic tribes arrived in southern Finland bringing their gods and goddesses with them. The character of Akka is partly based on Lithuanian earth goddess Zemyna and Madderakka of the saami´s. Very little is known about Finnish Akka. She goes by many names. Maannakka, Maanutar, Manteretar. All these names are derived from the word maa meaning earth. Akka mantereenalanen is a common title used in spells and it means the woman who lives beneath the earth. Akka was the goddess of earth, soil, and vegetation. She was the creator of snakes and worms (mato). It was believed that during matopäivä day of the snakes (spring equinox). Akka woke up after the long cold winter and all snakes woke up from their hibernation and danced in her honor. Worship of snakes was very common in ancient Finland and in all Baltic countries. Akka´s spouse was Ukko god of the rain, thunder, fertility, and community. She had a daughter called Manua spirit of the dry land and her sons were earth spirits called mantu´s. Sacred tree of Akka was the rowan tree.
It is suspected that the cult of Akka was destroyed in early Middle Ages when Christianity arrived in Finland. For a long time, Catholicism and pagan customs were practiced together. Akka emerged into Virgin Mary as the giver of all life. At the same, her image changed from a wise grandmother into an old evil hag. Same happened to Louhi Finnish goddess of the moon and shamanism who was downgraded to become the goddess of death and the underworld. In many myths, roles of Akka and Louhi are intertwined together. Akka´s spouse Ukko became UkkoYlijumala (Ukko the highest of the gods) and equivalent to Christian god.
Baba Yaga Mother of Witches
The character of Baba Yaga appears in many Russian folktales. Most famous one of them is Vasilisa the fair. In the story young girl Vasilisa is sent to house of Baba Yaga by her wicked stepmother. Who secretly wishes that the witch would eat the girl. Witches house is guarded by three riders of death and her servants are three pairs of cut of hands. Baba Yaga gives pointless tasks to the girl. She is respectful towards the witch and doesn´t ask too many questions. In the end, Baba Yaga rewards the girl. Her stepmother and stepsisters get burned into ashes and Vasilisa marries a prince.
In the story, Baba Yaga is not either good or bad. She has no children but Vasilisa always addresses her as the grandmother. Baba means both grandmother and old woman and Yaga means a witch. She appears as an ugly old woman. Her house is wooden hut and it stands on a pair of giant chicken legs. It has no windows and the gates are made of human bones. Baba Yaga flies in a magical mortar. She is the goddess of the hearth, the domestic kitchen witch who knows secret ingredients of plants and herbs.
Finding Slavic pagan tales from pre-Christian times can be challenging because Orthodoxism arrived in Russia already 1000 years ago. Expressions such as Mother Russia and symbols like the nesting doll refer to Russian tight-knit family culture. Bigger nesting dolls birth to smaller ones like Babuska the grandmother has given birth to new generations. Worship of mother earth in Russia is mainly based on the beliefs of different ethnic groups like the Mongols, Turks, and Samoyeds who all worshiped mother earth as one of their most important deities. Russian culture was deeply influenced by the early Greek civilization. Baba Yaga is an archaic figure who represents desolation, chaos, and destruction and at the same time, she is the goddess of growth, re-creation, and eternal wisdom. She is a surviving image of the Greek goddess Hekate, the goddess of witchcraft. Hekate in her original form was the goddess of the universe, nature, and death. One of her aspects is Persephone, goddess of spring who eventually became the goddess of the underworld. Like Persephone who embraces Hekate, her dark aspect, Baba Yaga is unapologetic. She is not ashamed of her age, her appearance, neither she cares what other people think of her.
Cailleach Celtic Mother of the Mountains
Cailleach is a Celtic goddess who was widely worshiped in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland in Pre-Christian times. Her origins, however, are in southern Europe. Archeological and genetic evidence makes clear that the Irish Celts migrated from Iberian Peninsula. Folklorist Sorita D´Este has suggested that origins of Cailleach can be traced into the island of Malta. In the island of Gozo there is a temple that was built between 3600-3000 BC and it was told be built by a giant Sansuna. She was told to be carrying a supporting stone of dolmen in her hands. This dolmen has a long history of use as a delivery stone by pregnant mothers. Her myth is connected to series of migrations of people from Spain to Ireland and from Norway to Scotland, where it was told that Cailleach or Carlin the giant woman, arrived from the north with stones in her apron creating the Scottish islands.
Woman who doesn´t reveal her age
First literal mentions of Cailleach in Ireland mention her old age. She is told to be older than Biblical floods. Some sources even go as far as tell her having fifty children and seven husbands being the founders of all tribes of the world. Word Cailleach has several meanings including an old woman, hag, crone, the veiled one. It is possible that Cailleach has roots in the old priestess cult. In Scotland, Cailleach Mhor Nam Fiadh was the deer woman. She is connected to the element of water and healing wells which were common associations to priestess cults. In Celtic traditions, gigantic size was often seen as an indication of supernatural powers and the divine nature. This also hints to a priestess cult and large statues of Cailleach which could have been exaggerated over time.
In most legends, Cailleach shapes the landscapes. She created mountains, lakes, caves, and rivers. Her old appearance reflects the age of the earth and the age of our planet. Cailleach is told to bring winter and snow with her. Mentions of Cailleach as the winter goddess is not found outside Britain but she shares similarities with Germanic Goddess Frau Holda or Holde who created snow by shaking her apron.
The Divine Grandmother
Seasonal tides of the year have become associated with the ages of human life. In the springtime young maiden dances carefree and beautiful. She matures into an old crone of winter. A cycle that reflects the seasons upon the earth. Fairytale of Baba Yaga tells about the maiden accepting the crone aspect within herself. Across cultures old age has been connected to witchcraft. In Fairytales we come across two kinds of grandmothers. Little Red Riding Hood´s kind and caring grandmother and the cannibalistic hag witch in the story of Hansel and Gretel. Yet the image of the grandfather is missing. The archetype of an old wise wizard is never attached to a woman and rarely he has children. This is a reflection of patriarchal societies of past. The divine grandmother is the mother nature herself. She is not to be tamed or controlled. In nature, time loses its meaning. Everything dies to be reborn again. Life is a constant cycle that keeps recreating itself.
Both my grandmothers are still alive. In Finnish language we have many words for grandma (mummi, mummu, mummo and mumma). My mummi is in her 90´s. Everything about her is round and short. My father died when I was very young so I spent lot of time with my grandparents as a child. My mummi is Christian but she never talked about her faith to others unless if they were Christians as well. This is something that I always respected in her. She has pretty much lost her memory. She recognizes my face but doesn´t always remember my name. She is always kind and supportive, an ideal grandmother really. Then there is my other grandma mummu. My mother´s mother. She is total opposite to my mummi. She is tall and has sharp features. She is an atheist and a left-wing feminist in her 80´s. She likes to debate and my mother has told me amusing stories how her parents always argued over politics (grandpa leaned way more towards right). Wisdom that we learn from our grandparents can not be measured. One of my earliest childhood memories was sitting next to my mummu when she told me fairy tales. Like generations before us, she and I became part of a never-ending chain where grandmothers passed their stories to their grandchildren. The divine grandmother lives in all of us. It doesn´t look for gender or the amount children you have. Divine grandmother lives in the present, in the future, stories of the past, memories, and in those important events that shape our lives.
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Origins of the seafolk
Stories of the seafolk have been told around the world since the beginning of time. Mysterious waters have always captivated people´s imagination. Seas and oceans are still in many ways unknown and we don´t know what all lies beneath the surface. Water being the element of feelings and emotions is often connected to the mysteries of the feminine. This is one of the reasons why mermaids are some of the most fascinating creatures there are in art, literature and in pop culture. But where there are mermaids there are also mermen. Let´s dive into deep waters to search them.
Mermen of the ancient Greece
Pantheon of Greek mythology holds thousands and thousands of gods and goddesses from mighty ruler gods of elements to minor nature spirits. In Greek mythology most famous merman was the god Poseidon. He was the son of titans Rhea and Chronos. When Poseidon and his two brothers Zeus and Hades gambled on ruling the world Poseidon became the ruler of all seas. Very much like the sea Poseidon was told to have short temper and a god who did not like to be shackled. What it came to his appearance Poseidon was told to have long white beard, he was physically fit and that he had a tail of a dolphin and dolphins were his sacred animals. Poseidon´s symbol was the trident. It was believed that he could create earthquakes and that he also created horses from the waves. Poseidon lived in the bottom of Aegean sea in a mighty palace with his wife Amfitrite. He was not a faithful husband and he had several affairs with both immortal and mortal beings.
Triton's were sons of Poseidon's union with Amfitrite. They were his royal army. Tritons had green hair and fine green scales and it was believed that their hands were rough like the surface of a sea shell. Triton's had tail like dolphins. There was also female Triton´s and they were called Tritonette´s. Both Triton's and Tritonette´s had little breathing organs just below their ears.
Finfolk and Children of the Muir
In Scotland there are legends told about the children of the Muir. These water creatures can have blue and gray skin. Muir is Scottish Gaelic and means the sea. Children of the muir are group of mermen and mermaids. They are believed to live in the Minch channel in northern Scotland.
Finfolk is another group of merfolk that according to legends resides in the cold waters of Scotland. Especially in Orkney Island. It was believed that Finfolk lived in underwater world called Finfolkaheem. Finfolk were shape sifters with magical abilities. These sea-creatures were dark and gloomy and they kidnapped human children and took them to their underwater world forcing them to be their slaves. Finfolk were free to venture between human world and their underwater home.
Beneath these legends of abductions, we can now days see the nature of these characters used by the people of the past as an explanations the death and disappearances that happened at sea.
Näck the Handsome Fiddler
Stories about the Näck mainly come from Scandinavia especially from Sweden. In Swedish folklore Näck was a handsome fellow. A water spirit who lived in a pond, lake or a waterfall playing his violin. Näck was an erotic character and he was told to lure young women who were captivated by his good looks and musical talents. Sometimes it happened that Näck would fell in love with a human woman and they would get married but as many times happens in the stories about the sea folk Näck started to long it´s watery home and couple departed. Another common story about Näck in Sweden tells that Näck could transform itself into a white horse. It would rise to the shore where children were playing and being mesmerized by the miraculous white horse they climbed into it´s back and the horse would eventually drown them. This story has similarities to the legends about the Kelpies in Scotland. Both stories were told as warnings for children not to go to swim too deep.
In Finland and in Norway Näck is slightly different character. In these stories Näkki (Finnish) or Nokken (Norwegian) is more of a troll, water imp or a male spirit completely covered with seaweed. It lives in whirlpools and in the deepest end of the pond and it drowns those who swim too far away from the shore.
Vodjanov the mer-grandfather
Stories about the Vodyanov are told across the Slavic lands. They are described to be naked old men with greenish hair, skin and beard and sometimes frog-like face, body covered with muck or dark fish scales. Vodyanov has webbed-palms and if you look into it´s eyes you might mistake them as burning coals. According to some sources Vodyanov were spirits of men that had drowned themselves or killed in an accident near water. Whatever the truth is they are dual creatures. They posses great danger for the people who misbehave in their territory and yet they can assist fishermen who they like and believe are worth the effort. Czech, Slovak and Slovenians have folklore character called vodníci who is similar to Vodyanov. Vodnícis are more laid-back characters who were known for playing cards, smoking pipes and just sitting and hanging around the water surface (rocks, river benches and beaches). Vodníci did not drown people but they did collect souls of those who had drowned into lid-covered porcelain cups. Amount of these cups represented the wealth of vodníci. If lid would get open the soul might escape in the form of a bubble. They did not have human servants but they had control over fishes and water. Fishermen asked the vodníc to help them by sacrificing tobacco into the water saying "here is your tobacco now help me to get fish" Vodníci are creatures of clear-water. It is believed that sea-waters are dangerous even deadly for them.
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
Love fandoms AOGG and Little Women (prefers books over the films). Louisa May Alcott researcher.
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