reads, Recent Reads

Circe

I recently read Circe, a historical fantasy by Madeline Miller, a retelling and exploration of the maligned figure in Ancient Greek mythology, the witch Circe.

Circe follows the unusual female figure of Ancient Greek literature, the witch daughter of the Titan god Helios, exiled to Aiaia by Olyimpium Zeus. The details of Circe’s strangely mortal-like voice, her yellow Titan eyes and seemingly lack of powerful gifts make her unwanted and taunted among the Titans and Olympians alike. Yet Circe raises her brother from infancy and it is he who discovers the hidden powers of the Titan and Nyrad heritage. Aeëtes later becomes the infamous god, creator of the Golden Fleece, father of Medea and challenged by Jason and the Argonauts. Their sister Pasiphaë is wed to King Minos of Crete, the extravagant courts of Knossos later falling to Pasiphaë’s own vengeance when she gives birth to the monstrous Minotaur. Circe’s gifts for witchcraft are later revealed when she transforms mortals into gods and rival nymph Cilla into a monster.

Exiled on the island of Aeaea, Circe enters the legendary heroic tale of Odysseus who, shipwrecked on the Isle, stays for several years on the course of his travels back to Ithaca. Unbeknown to Odysseus, Circe bears him a child and earns the wrath of the powerful Olympian goddess Athena, Odysseus patron and protector. The prophecy of Odysseus death relates to his son and desperate to protect her child, Circe obscures the Isle in a powerful illusion, keeping all the gods away except the trickster Hermes and challenges Trygion, the ancient god of the deep sea for a weapon powerful enough to inflict pain upon the immortals.

Circe was vividly described and detailed, the explanations of Ancient Greek mythology and literature were wonderful. As a former scholar of Ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology, I loved the originality of Miller’s witch Circe while still adhering to the foundations of the broader mythologies. A surprising and exotic storytelling! Definitely well recommended!

Short Stories, stories

Curses, Storms & Talismans

A constant interest and inspiration in my writing and daily life is the environment. Recently, Australia has suffered some of the worst bushfires on top of a lengthening drought. While I was travelling in Europe from August-October 2019, I started thinking about a possible new idea for novel. First, I needed to write a short story exploring some of the themes and characters. The idea for this story took shape from the the reliance of many early nomadic cultures on the environment. I wondered how a magical way to harness that power could play a vital role in securing the survival of one group over another. I drew inspiration from some of the marvellous artefacts, histories, fairytales and fables I encountered while travelling through European museums. I found inspiration in folktales of magical objects imbued with a spirit like stories of the jinn from Middle Eastern folktales or silver treasure in Celtic folklore. In many of these cursed object folktales, the powerful object, more accurately the entity within, are beholden to the will of a mortal.

reads, Recent Reads

The City of Brass

The City of Brass is the first installment in the debut fantasy series The Daevabad Trilogy by American author S. A. Chakraborty based on early Islamic folklore and legends. The City of Brass follows female protagonist Nahri, a con-woman and thief who grew up an orphan on the Cairo streets during Ottoman-French occupation. Nahri has never believed in magic, thinking her unusually accurate abilities to sense illness and talent for languages an extension of her ability to deceive and read a mark. When Nahri attempts a risky healing, she uses a language remembered only from her childhood and accidentally summons Dara, a legendary but mysterious and dangerous warrior djin. In summoning Dara, Nahri also attracts the attention of the deadly ghouls controlled by the destructive ifrit. Fighting for their lives, Dara takes Nahri and flees across the vast expanse of desert, certain the ifrit search for her. In flight across the endless desert landscape, Dara tells Nahri of the legendary city of Daevabad, the tall gilded brass walls of the legendary djinn fortress. Nahri follows Dara, the haunting memories of ghouls and ifrit spurring her to trust Dara even though it has been centuries since he had been within Daevabad and the inconsistencies of his story worry Nahri at the reception they might receive.
The City of Brass was a powerful fantasy debut with the unique Islamic folklore and legends providing an adventurous flair that can only become stronger with the continuing installments in the series.

Short Stories, stories

Folklore & Nature

Human survival has always been dependent on the natural environment and many mythologies show links between folklore and human fear of environmental instability. I was curious to explore folklore dealing with how past and present cultures attempt to explain and avoid disastrous environmental fluctuations. As human survival is so clearly linked to a stable environment, natural disasters like floods, drought and severe storms have been explained by many different folktales, explaining how appeasing supernatural forces could avoid climatic catastrophe. Long and short-term disasters were often viewed as societies or specific families who had failed to appease the supernatural beings who had power over the environment. Such examples occur throughout different cultures and folklore but the common themes involve a bargain between the mortals inhabiting lands under the power of supernatural beings, whether they are the Fair Folk of Irish folklore, the jinn of the Middle East or powerful spirits of Japanese folklore. According to folklore, a bargain with these supernatural beings can protect the land from poor harvests, drought, floods or harsh winters. I am exploring how these bargains could occur over generations with supernatural beings acting as guardians for a specific family and the effect for the environment when reneging on such a bargain.

Writing

Loki & Idunn

I have been working hard writing a large scene over several chapters in my novel-in-progress, Ragnarok Dreaming. The scene is based on a significant section in Norse mythology recorded in The Prose Edda, called the Skaldskaparmal, where Loki is portrayed for the first time as a more malicious being. The Skaldskaparmal describes Loki’s deliberate deception of the most innocent among the gods, Idunn who is also the guardian of immortality for the Aesir. In return for his own life, Loki promises Idunn to the mightiest of the frost giants, Thrazi. When Loki deceives Idunn into following him beyond the protective lands of the Aesir, she is kidnapped by Thrazi and held as his prisoner. Although Loki’s guilt is evident, his concern grows as the Aesir begin to age rapidly without Idunn tending the tree that provides the apples and their immortality. Odin has Loki beaten for his betrayal which has the desired effect to spur Loki’s conscience. He finally agrees to helps rescue Idunn from Thrazi‘s wintry mountain fortress. In truth, the Aesir are too weakened and aged to assault the mountain fortress, Thyrheim. Loki rescues Idunn and lures Thrazi back toward Asgard where Odin and Thor have built a bonfire. In the form of a hawk, Loki easily evades Thrazi’s eagle-form but Thrazi is caught by the flames and destroyed.Loki retains some of his humanity in the Skaldskaparmal but from now on, his considerations of the Aesir are complicated, alternating more swiftly from bitter dislike to a sense of familial belonging. Loki is neither Aesir nor truly of the jotnar but is caught somewhere in-between.

In my work-in-progress, Ragnarok Dreaming, I explore Loki’s conflict where he belongs to neither the giants nor the gods; a conscious and unconscious character motivation.

Short Stories, stories

Taurus, the Zodiac & Mesopotamian Myth

Ancient history and mythology have always been favorite topics for me. Recently, I found an interesting article on newly discovered sections of ancient Mesopotamian poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, detailing the legendary feats of a historical king. The Epic of Gilgamesh was inscribed on cuneiform tablets which continue to baffle scholars as to the purpose of why these clay tablets are so small.I was interested in the mythology behind the zodiac, the legends behind creation of constellations rather than modern interpretations of astrology and divination. The constellation we know as Taurus, existed in the ancient Mesopotamian cultures and was also represented and embodied by a bull. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the formation of the constellation the ancient Greeks later called Taurus, is described as a battle between the hero Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven, a destructive bull sent to avenge the goddess Ishtar after the wrongs committed by Gilgamesh. I wrote a speculative fiction story in a contemporary setting incorporating the Bull of Heaven based on Ishtar’s vengeance against Gilgamesh. I have added the destructive environmental effects caused by the Bull of Heaven and alluded to in The Epic of Gilgamesh.

research

Norse Gods: The Vanir

Much of the information about Norse mythology is gleaned from the historical texts called the Eddas. As recounted in the Eddas, two separate hosts of deities initially existed, the Vanir and Aesir . These two hosts waged several unsuccessful wars against each other until they united as a single host, combining their strength against the giants. The union of the Vanir and Aesir was then strengthened through marriage alliances. The deities of the Vanir are introduced in this first post, while a second post discusses the Aesir.


The Vanir:

A host of Norse deities almost exclusively associated with the natural elements. These included affinities with the seasons, celestial bodies, and the sedir, a magic associated with women that included foretelling the future. The war between the Aesir and Vanir was settled with an exchange of hostages before several marriages permanently united them.


Njord:

Njord was a prominent god among the Vanir and the father of sibling deities, Freya and Freyr. Njord was embodiment of the winds, especially those winds close to shore. Associated with fishing, Njord was symbolic of the bounties from the sea and often invoked by fishermen. Njord was also invoked by sailors returning from sea voyages hoping for the safety of the shore. Njord was often depicted as an older man, features marked by exposure to the harsh weather of the sea winds.

Freyr:

Son of the Vanir god Njord and sibling to goddess Freya. As with the deities of the Vanir, Freyr was associated with natural elements and was the personification of summer. Freyr was the embodiment of abundance and wealth, associated with harvests, hunts and forests. Freyr was also associated with some aspects of warfare and was often depicted with a golden sword, radiant like the summer sun. More commonly, Freyr was associated the wealth and abundance of good harvests and the bountiful summer forests.

Freya:

Daughter of Vanir god, Njord and sister of the god Freyr. Similar to her sibling, Freya was the personification of Spring. Freya was associated with lovers and with the association of spring, she embodied fertility. Commonly, Freya was depicted as a beautiful maiden and often wreathed in garlands of flowers. There was a darker aspect to Freya that associated her with battle and death. Freya is the leader of the Valkyries, the female warrior spirits who take the souls of honoured warriors slain in battle. Freya was also the archetypal völva, a practitioner of the ancient Norse magic, the sedir, which had many shamanistic qualities and was both revered and feared for the gift it offered of foresight. Freya first taught the sedir to the Norse gods and, by extension, to the mortal realm of Midgard.

research

Norse Gods: The Aesir

Much of the information about Norse mythology is gleaned from the historical texts called the Eddas. As recounted in the Eddas, two separate hosts of deities initially existed, the Vanir and Aesir. These two hosts waged several unsuccessful wars against each other until they united as a single host, combining their strength against the giants. The union of the Vanir and Aesir was then strengthened through marriage alliances. The deities of the Vanir were introduced in an earlier post, while this post discusses the Aesir.


The Aesir:

A host of Norse deities that are very different to the Vanir and, considered by many scholars, to be the more recent in Norse mythology. The primary deities in the Aesir are almost exclusively male and associated with warfare and aspects of community and family life. Lesser gods in the Aesir are associated with craftsmanship but all have specific personality traits that would be invoked during prayer.


Odin:

The principal leader of the Aesir. Odin was also the eldest of the gods and the father of many lesser deities. Odin was the embodiment of a leader protecting his dependants through wisdom and seeking knowledge. Odin was also often invoked by leaders before battle as Odin was associated with victory in battle. Odin’s quest for further wisdom to improve his leadership and maintain it, led to many sacrifices including the offering of his eye to gain the foresight he required. Odin was the real leader of the Norse deities and was an exemplar of how rulers should sacrifice themselves for the furthering of their dependant community and family.

Frigg:

Goddess among the Aesir and wife to Odin, who in Odin’s absence from Asgard, became the leader of the Aesir. As the only principal goddess among the Aesir, there is curiously little written specifically about Frigg in the Eddas. Frigg was the embodiment of a virtuous Nordic wife, associated with the household and invoked by married couples for her embodiment of love and marriage. Frigg was commonly depicted as wife, mother and leader but her elaborate clothing revealed a darker aspect to her. Frigg’s powers were like those of Odin, associated with the air. Frigg was responsible for the discovery of flax and her spinning distaff was capable of enacting her fickle mood where she would spin the clouds into her clothing, all as changeable as the weather.

Thor:

A god among the Aesir, the embodiment of thunderstorms and the personification of physical strength. Thor was the son of Odin and often associated with warfare and, like Odin and the god Tyr, these three gods formed a triad of gods often invoked during battle. Where Odin’s powers in warfare are related to qualities aspired for strong leadership, Tyr was invoked for strategic planning and swordsmanship. Thor, on the other hand, was admired for the brute strength and fury he possessed, a battle-rage and lust that could sustain armies and inspire victory. Thor is rarely described or praised for intelligence but his powerful strength and warhammer were often used to save the Aesir and Vanir from attacks by the giants, their common enemy.

research

Angrboda: Mother of Monsters

In Norse mythology, the giantess Angrboda is mentioned only fleetingly in connection with her affair with Loki and the three monstrous offspring she bore. The “Hag of the Iron Wood” is one title she is referred to but the other is her name, Angrboda meaning “the bringer of sorrows”. Norse myth is full of tales where Odin constantly seeks more knowledge, always to aid the Aesir and ultimately, prevent Ragnarok and the destruction of the Nine Worlds. It is curious then how little information is contained in the Norse texts referring to Angrboda, especially as two offspring she has with Loki play key roles in the final demise of the gods as does Loki himself. The relative silence concerning Angrboda seems to add power to the darkness and destruction the giantess embodies.
In the Norse myths and legends, references to how Loki seduced the horned giantess of Iron Wood in Jotunheim who bore three monstrous offspring. The true nature and relationship between Loki and Angrboda is not clearly detailed but the following tales of Loki’s wife Sigyn and her devotion to him during his binding and punishment, contrast with the betrayal and shame Sigyn apparently endures for Loki’s affair with Angrboda and the children she bore him. The three children born to Loki and Angrboda play pivotal roles in Norse myth.


The only daughter of the union was Hel, a sorrowful and deformed woman who was half-beauty, half-corpse and given the stronghold of the same name, Hel. There in Hel, the daughter of Loki holds the shades of the dead until Ragnarok.


Jormungand, the Midgard serpent is the other important offspring from Loki and Angrboda. Jormungand is a giant sea-serpent, prone to fits of anger and sharing a mutual hatred of the god, Thor. It is the Aesir who cast Jormungand into the Midgard sea where the serpent grows to encircle the land, forming the edges of the sea. In the final battle of Ragnarok, Jormungand and Thor slay each other, the weapons of their own demise.


The last and most destructive of the offspring is the wolf, Fenrir. The giant wolf is cunning and fated to devour the Nine Worlds at Ragnarok. In an effort to tame Fenrir, Odin and the Aesir commission the dwarves to forge a chain the wolf can not break. In the end, the Aesir are successful in binding Fenrir and although the god Tyr loses his hand to the cunning wolf, Fenrir will stay bound until the battle of Ragnarok. Chained at the entrance to Hel, Fenrir will break his fetters and his howl signal the unfurling of Ragnarok. It is Fenrir who kills Tyr and Odin at Ragnarok before being slain by Odin’s son.

research

Idunn: Guardian of Youth

Idunn is a Norse goddess, the guardian of a sacred fruit that provides immortality to the Aesir. There are several accounts of Idunn in the Prose Edda where she is often described as possessing child-like trust, giving her a sense of naivety. The first account of Idunn is in the Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, where Idunn is referred to as the wife of Bragi, a god skilled in poetry and knowledge. Here, it mentions Idunn keeps the sacred fruit of the Aesir within a carved wooden box. Every day until the final battle of Ragnarok, the Aesir must eat these apples to remain youthful (although, apples arrived late to Iceland and more likely these were tree nuts, similar to Irish lore). In a later section of the Prose Edda, the Skaldskaparmal, a retelling of a legend about a bargain struck between Loki and the powerful frost giant, Thjazi. Loki promises to lure Idunn and the fruit away from Asgard. In bringing Idunn to Thjazi, the giant takes her to his fortress Thrymheim. During Idunn’s absence and, without the daily renewal of their youth, the Aesir quickly weaken and age. The Aesir question Loki over Idunn’s disappearance and Loki bargains to retrieve Idunn if Freyja gifts him the magic to change form into a falcon. After agreement, Loki flies to Thrymheim during Thjazi’s absence. Finding Idunn alone, Loki changes her into a nut before flying back to Asgard with Idunn in his talons. The Aesir see Thjazi in pursuit of Loki, the giant guised as an eagle. Quickly, the Aesir light a large fire with barely enough time for Loki to return safely into the Asgard fortress. Following closely behind Loki, Thjazi is unable to safely land and still in eagle-form, is burned by the flames and killed by the Aesir.