Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday's Mythological Creature of the Day -- Libitina, The Goddess of Funerals, Morticians and Corpses

In Roman Mythology Libitina was The Goddess of Funerals, Morticians and Corpses. I have never heard of her and was shocked to learn that there is not much information available about this seemingly important Deity. So, here is what I’ve dug up so far:

Her sanctuary was a sacred grove, where funeral accessories and tools were kept. She was the patron of the undertakers, who had their parlors near her temple. Allegedly, the legendary sixth king of ancient Rome, and the second of his Etruscan dynasty, Servius Tullius (he reigned 578-535BC) was the one who ordered people to bring a coin for every funeral held and place it in the Libitina’s temple. By this he could learn how many people have died during a certain period of time.

Later, Libitina was identified with Lubetina, the Goddess of Gardens, and then with Venus Libitina (the Goddess of passion and lust ) and based on the similarity of names morphed into the latest. Death and Sex... Death and Passion...

Interestingly, Plutarch (Quaest. Rom. 23) mentions a small statue at Delphi of Aphrodite Epitymbia (A. of tombs= Venus Libitina), to which the spirits of the dead were summoned. The inconsistency of selling funeral requisites in the temple of Libitina, seeing that she is identified with Venus, is explained by him as indicating that one and the same goddess presides over birth and death; or the association of such things with the goddess of love and pleasure is intended to show that death is not a calamity, but rather a consummation to be desired. Libitina may, however, have been originally an earth goddess, connected with luxuriant nature and the enjoyments of life (cf. lub-et, lib-ido); then, all such deities being connected with the underworld, she also became the goddess of death, and that side of her character predominated in the later conceptions.

Today, Libitina’s very name has sunk into such obscurity that it is seldom mentioned when the gods and goddesses of antiquity are reviewed. And I find it very strange – we know so much about Roman’s funeral rites and pyres, so it seems weird that such seemingly important Goddess would be completely forgotten. Wikipedia mentioned that her face was seldom portrayed; and I couldn’t find any authentic images online. There were a few mentions of Orcus, her male equivalent (also of Etruscan origin, also half-forgotten) but not much.

Another interesting fact that I’ve discovered was that “Libitina’s name became comparable to our idea of death, and she was worshipped by the ancients and often sung about by their poets. This female deity was a reigning personification of Death. She would manifest as a black robed, dark winged figure that might, like an enormous bird of prey, hover above her intended victim until the moment came to seize it”. Sounds pretty gruesome and horrifying… but wait, was it really Libitina’s description or was it Mors’s? There was another Roman female deity associated with death, also barely mentioned but fit the above description...

This is one of the most intriguing articles I’ve found that are referencing the less-known side of the Roman-Greek mythology. If anybody has more information on this Deity, please share!Come back soon and spread the word!

Check these links:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Friday's Mythological Creature of the Day -- Kuksu

Friday’s Mythological Figure – Kuksu, Northern Califonia’s Native American Creation God

Today I opened my big mythological encyclopedia on a random page yet again, and read about Kuksu. The more I dug for information, the more interesting it was. The encyclopedia itself gave me a very brief description of Kuksu. He was mentioned in the myths of Maidu, Pomo, Patwin and other Northern California Native American tribes, where Kuksu was considered to be the first man and the teacher of all people. Secret rituals worshipping Kuksu, connected with coming of age initiations were typically conducted during winter in the hidden underground dance rooms. Elaborate dancing ceremonies were held, where dancers would wearing humongous headpieces of feathers, (so the Kuksu’s cult was also known as a cult of “Big Head”) impersonating Kuksu and other Deities. These ceremonies were supposed to help with continuation of human kind, heal illnesses, and prevent natural disasters. That would have been it…
Well, actually, it was a shamanistic religion, a sort of male secret society. It was believed that Kuksu would grant the passing into the sacred time during the present time. Basically, how I understood it, the ceremonies were helping the participants to break through the normal time-space continuum to reach the “sacred space and time” for visions, prophecies and blessings. Some hallucinogenic stuff was allegedly smoked during the ceremonies to reach the “blessed state”.
Also, I was lucky to come across David Adams Leeming’s “Creation Myths of the World: an encyclopedia” that was mentioning Kuksu. This is one of the humblest creation myths I’ve found so far. Here is my brief summary of the myth: (find the full version online or get the book -- it’s actually really cool!)
So here was a god Madumda, who went to see his older brother Kuksu, who lived on a cloud in a very icy, snowy house and smoked his pipe all day and all night. Smoking and thinking, thinking and smoking.
Madumda scraped some skin from his armpit and gave it to Kuksu, who held it in between his toes. Then Kuksu scraped some skin from his own armpit and gave it to Madumda to hold between toes. Then they added some hair to the two balls and mixed them altogether. The two gods sang a sacred song (Kuksu was the one who knew the secret words of creation) and Madumda went home to sleep, putting the ball into his ear, where it conveniently mixed with his earwax. He slept for eight days, during which the ball grew and became the Earth. Madumda threw his pipe in sky and made the Sun, and said the sacred words to create all living on earth, including people (it took him a few attempts to make the right people, because they would behave badly: the first batch was destroyed by flood, the second by fire, the third by wind).
So, in my understanding of the myth, Madumda was the actual creator, but it was Kuksu, who was the ultimate Shaman, who held the power and raw magic that started the creation, the one who knew the “Word” and helped Madumda to create a world in Eight days… Doesn’t it remind you of something similar? ;-)

Check these links for more cool info: