Hades may be one of the most-well known and most popular gods from Ancient Greek mythology but wasn’t one of the recognised Olympian gods even despite being the brother of Zeus. Hades was the Greek god of the Dead and his domain took on his name and didn’t exist in the mortal realm but an Underworld.
Hades was the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea which made him brother to Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Poseidon and Zeus. Cronus – fearful of his position as supreme ruler and determined to avoid a prophecy about his own downfall, swallowed each of his children when they were born. Hades and his siblings were imprisoned in the stomach of their father.
Zeus was the only one if the sibling to escape being swallowed by Cronus and escaped to Crete – where when he reached maturity- he returned to confront Cronus. Aided by Cronus’s wife Rhea and Gaia, Cronus was presented with a potion he was told would bring gift him invincibility. Instead, it made him regurgitate all his imprisoned children.
Zeus led a rebellion against Cronus and Hades was presented with a Helmet of Darkness by the Cyclopes. The helmet would make the wearer invisible and in later legends, Perseus would make use of it. During the war against the Titans, Hades wore it was was responsible for bringing the war to an end when Hades entered the Titans’s encampment and destroyed all their weapons.
Victory over the Titans meant the cosmos was divided between the three sons of Cronus. A drawing of lots saw Zeus became lord of the heavens and earth, Poseidon the lord the earth’s waters and Hades the lord of the Underworld.
The ancient Greek underworld holds many realms and was more than Tartarus, the fiery pit – it also included the Elysian Fields, a realm of paradise. The dead would be judged as to how they had lived their lives and an eternity might be spent in Tartarus, the Elysian Fields or the nothingness of the Asphodel Meadows.
The dead were a population of Hades’s realm but the god did not take judgement over them. Instead, he gave those tasks to others and was revered for the fear and power he invoked. Hades doesn’t bring death either – this was carried out by the god Thanatos, a son of the goddess Nyx.
Hades had an ebony throne and held a sceptre in one hand and a two-pronged spear in the other. When travelling, his black chariot was pulled by four coal-black horses. The most famous association to Hades was his guard dog, Cerberus, the monstrous three-head offspring of Echidna.
Other Names: Aidoneus, Pluto
Manifestation: A large man with a curly black beard
Attribute: A helmet of invisibility
Familiar: Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed guard dog
Plants: Black narcissus, mint, cypress tree, fava beans
Animals: Black ram, wolf, bear
Sacred site: A shrine on Mount Mentha in Tryphelia, Elis. Hades was also worshipped with Athena at her temple near Koroneia in Boeotia.
In Aztec cosmology, the soul intakes a journey to the Underworld after death and they have four destinations: the Sacred Orchard of the Gods, the Place of Darkness, the Kingdom of the Sun, and a paradise called the Mansion of the Moon.
The most common destination for a soul is Mictlán (Place of Darkness) with nine levels, crashing mountains and rushing rivers, and four years of struggle. There are 13 Heavens over which various gods and goddesses preside and provides the cultural basis for the Day of the Dead customs and celebrations.
Mictlantecuhtli is the skeletal Lord of the Land of the Dead – the supreme ruler of Mictlán. He oversees the place of eternal smoke and darkness along with his consort Mictlancihuatl.
Mictlán ruled by its Lord and Lady, is a gloomy place a soul reaches only after wandering for four years beneath the Earth, accompanied by a “soul-companion,” usually a do which was customarily cremated with the body.
Aztec myth tells how Quetzalcoatl (Nahuatl language means “feathered serpent”) journeyed into Mictlán at the dawning of the Fifth Sun (the present world era), and restored humankind to life with from the bones of those who had lived before. Bones are like seeds: everything that dies goes into the Earth, and from it new life is born in the sacred cycle of existence.
Quetzalcoatl’s Descent To Mictlán
At sunset, Mictlantechutli (Lord of Underworld) and Tonatiuh (Star God) take their place to illuminate the world of the dead.
Legend tells that after Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca created the world, the day and night, they placed Mictalntecuhtli and his wife Mictlancihuatl as Lord and Lady of the underworld.
The counterpart of Mictlán is the paradise known as Tlalocán, or the home of the god Tlaloc, where the dead who drowned or were struck by lightning would dwell.
The 4 houses of the dead:
Chichihuacuauhco is the first mansion, a place of dead children. In its middle there is a large tree whose branches drip milk so the children could might feed and gain strength. These children will return to the Earth when our world of the Fifth Sun is destroyed. That is why children died young so they might repopulate the Earth for the future.
Mictlán is the second house. Those who succumbed to illness and old age went to dwell in Mictlán. The soul must make a 4 year journey and pass through nine layers of the Underworld and various daunting tests. These included the dead coming to the river Apanohuaya which is impossible to cross without the help of an Itzcuintli (xoloitzcuintle), a special dog each family raised and cremated alongside the mourned deceased.
Among the Aztecs, the god Xolotl was a monstrous dog. During the creation of the Fifth Sun, Xolotl was hunted by Death and escaped him by transforming himself first into a sprout of maize, then into maguey leaves and finally as a salamander in a pool of water. The third time that Death found Xolotl, he trapped and killed him. Three important foodstuffs were produced from the body of this mythological dog.
Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Dead, had kept the bones of a man from a previous creation. Xolotl descended to the Underworld trying to steal these bones so that man could be reborn into the new world of the Fifth Sun. Xolotl recovered the bones and brought man to life again by piercing his penis and bleeding upon them. Xolotl is seen as an incarnation of the planet Venus as the Evening Star (the Morning Star was his twin brother Quetzalcoatl).
Xolotl is the canine companion of the Sun, following its path through both in the sky and the Underworld. Xolotl’s strong connection with the Uderworld, death and the dead is demonstrated by the symbols he bears. In the Codex Borbonicus Xolotl is pictured with a knife in his mouth (symbol of death), and has black wavy hair like the hair worn by the gods of death.
Upon recognising his dead master, the dog barks, then rushes to help the deceased to cross the river and carries its master upon his back while swimming.
After the crossing, the soul is stripped of all clothes, beginning the second part of his journey between two mountains that conflicted with each other. This pass is called Tepetl Monamiclia, where the deceased would make warily make their way hoping the two mountains wouldn’t clash and crush the passing traveler.
At the end of the pass, a descent down a hill strewn with flints and sharp obsidian (same material used to make knives) and the soul would call to Ilztepetl. But the stones still mercilessly cut the feet of the dead as they passed.
Celhuecayan, the eight mountains is covered i perpetual snow that falls constantly and is whipped up by strong winds.
The soul the arrives at the foot of a hill, the last part in the journey called Paniecatacoyan. These moors here are cold and large, where the dead would walk endlessly crossing the desolated land.
The soul then take a long path, where they are struck with arrows. This place is Temiminaloyan and the arrows are fired by unseen hands.
At the end of the path is Tecoylenaloyan, where the soul exists with thousands of fierce beasts. When any of the beasts reached them, the souks would throw open their chests and let the beasts eat their hearts.
The souls os then forced to dive into the Apanuiayo (black water river), and where the Xochilonal dwells. The soul must swim in this lake, dodging the animals, including the terrifying lizard to get to the next test.
Finally, tired, injured and exhausted with suffering, the soul reaches Chicunamictlan, where they would meet Mictlantecuchtli, the fierce God of the Death who would receive them with vengeance.
Here the soul’s cycle ends forever and here they would live until their bodies and their lives extinguish.
The long journey lasted for four years, in which the deceased came to his eternal rest.
The mansion where most of the dead arrived were those who would diedof natural causes.
The is the Kingdom of the Sun.
Here the warriors, slaughtered at the hands of their enemies, rest. Those souls of women who died in childbirth are counted among these. For among the Aztecs, pregnant women were like warriors who symbolically capture her child for the Aztec state in the painful and bloody battle of birth. Considered as female aspects of defeated heroic warriors, women dying in childbirth became fierce goddesses who carried the setting sun into the netherworld realm of Mictlán.
Mictlán is a place outside of the time. A wonderful infinite place, and a beautiful plain, at every day the sun rose, warriors beat their shields.
After four years, these warriors would turn into rich bird-feathers, small, living creatures eating the flowers.
Those who had died by drowning, lightning, and other deaths related to water and rain arrived at Tlalocán, the Mansion of the Moon, a place of unending springtime and a paradise of green plants. This place belongs to Tlaloc.
Tlaloc is also associated with caves, springs, and mountains, most specifically the sacred mountain in which he was believed to reside. His animal forms include herons and water-dwelling creatures such as amphibians, snails, and possibly sea creatures, particularly shellfish.
The dead arriving here would be happy, fresh and unconcerned. These dead hadn’t been cremated, but buried.
And so, between the mansions the dead Aztecs were divided, each person going to their designated place in the Mexican Underworld.
Loki (Old Norse: Loki “knot/tangle”) is a wily trickster god of Norse mythology. While treated as a nominal member of the Aesir, he occupies a highly ambivalent and unique position among the gods, giants, and the other kinds of spiritual beings that populate pre-Christian Norse religion.
Loki is the father of three monsters with giantess and witch of the Iron Wood, Angrboda (Old Norse: “Anguish-bringer”). Their daughter Hel became the ruler of the underworld; Jormungand, a great serpent (also known as the Midgard Serpent encircled the entirety of Midgard sea) is fated to be slain and slay Thor during Ragnarok; lastly, Fenrir, the giant wolf who bites off one the god Tyr’s hands when chained by the Aesir and slays Odin during Ragnarok.
Loki also had a wife from among the Aesir – Sigyn (“Friend of Victory”) and two sons named Nari and Narfi, whose names might mean “Corpse.” They are sacrificed and their entrails used to bind Loki until he’ll break free at the beginning of Ragnarok.
Loki often runs afoul of societal expectations but also the “the laws of nature.” Loki is also a shape-shifter and in the form of a mare, he birthed Sleipnir, Odin’s shamanic stallion.
In many tales, Loki is a schemer, coward, shallow and focused only on his self-preservation. He’s also playful, malicious, and can be helpful. But all tales portray him as irreverent and immoral.
Loki’s recklessness finds him in the hands of the furious frost-giant, Thrazi who threatens to kill him unless he kidnaps the goddess Idunn. To save his own life, Loki agrees and shape-shifting again, steals Idunn away and delivers her to Thrazi. The Aesir then threaten him with death unless he rescues Idunn. He agrees to this for self-preservation and shape-shifting into a falcon and transforms Idunn again and carries her back to Asgard in his talons. Angered, Thrazi pursues him in the form of an eagle. When he has almost caught up with Loki, the Aesir gods light a fire around the perimeter of their fortress. The flames catch Thrazi’s feathers and burns him to death.
After Thrazi’s death, his daughter, frost-giantess Skadi, marches on Asgard demanding compensation for slaying her father. One of her demands is that the Aesir make her laugh, something which only Loki can accomplish.
Loki both helps and hinders the gods and the giants, depending on what course of action most benefits him at the time.
During Ragnarok, when the gods and giants engage in their fateful struggle and the cosmos is destroyed, Loki joins the giants and captains a ship made by Hel called Naglfar, “Deadmen’s nails,” that brings many of the giants to the battlefield. Loki and the Aesir god Heimdall will mortally wound each other.
Loki is best known for his malevolent role in the death of Odín and Frigg’s son Baldr. The prophesied death of the beloved god Baldr, Frigg secures a promise from every living thing not to harm her son. But no oath is obtained from a young mistletoe. Loki discovers this omission and carves a spearhead from the mistletoe. While the Aesir are enjoying testing the immortality of Baldr, Loki gives the spearhead to Baldr’s brother, the blind god Hodr who isn’t participating in the festivities. Loki aims for Hodr and Baldr is struck and dies.
After Baldr’s death, the Aesir god Hermod rides Sleipnir into the underworld to implore Hel to release Baldr. Hel demands that if Baldr is truly loved by everything and everyone, every being in the Nine Worlds must weep for Baldr and then she will release him from the Underworld. Loki disguises himself as a giantess named Thok (“Thanks”), who is the only one in the Nine Worlds who doesn’t weep for Baldr. In turn, he must remain with Hel in the Underworld.
For this last crime against the Aesir gods, he is bound within a cavern with a venomous serpent hanging above him, dripping poison onto his face (the viper care of Skadi). Loki’s very faithful wife Sigyn, sits beside him holding a bowl catch the venom. But when the bowl needs emptying, she mist leave Loki’s face unprotected and drops of venom fall onto his flesh and he writhes in agonised convulsions that cause earthquakes. Here, he will stay until breaking free at Ragnarok.
For many centuries of Norse mythology study, the meaning of Loki’s name has been elusive. A recent, the philologist Eldar Heide suggests from Nordic folklore in periods more recent than the Viking Age, Loki often appears in contexts likening it to a knot on a thread. In fact, in later Icelandic usage, the common noun loki means “knot” or “tangle.”
Manifestation: A master shape-shifter who appears in many guises.
Consort: Aesir wife Sigyn and the giantess Angrboda
Sacred animals: Wolves, snakes and possibly spiders (web-weaving).
Star symbol: Sirius also known as Lokabrenna (“Loki’s Brand”) in traditional Norse astrology
Baron Samedi is the leader of the Barons and possibly the Gedés. He presides over a sprawling, confusing, complex clan of spirits. Baron Samedi literally means Baron Saturday, which may sound innocuous compared to Baron Cemetery but a connection through Christianity is Saturday was between the crucifixion on Friday and resurrection on the Sunday. Thus, the Saturday, belongs to Baron Samedi, Lord of the Dead. Or another possible explanation for the name is that Samedi is related to ‘Simbi’ or zombie in Haitian and there is only a coincidental resemblance to the French word for Saturday.
Baron Samedi spends is mostly in the invisible realm of the Haitian voodoo spirits. He is known to be outrageous – drinking rum and smoking cigars, swearing profusely, and making filthy jokes. The other spirits in the Guede family behave similarly but lacking the suaveness of Baron Samedi.
Despite being married to the loa, Maman Brigitte, the Baron chases after mortal women and lingers at the crossroads of life and death in the human world.
When someone dies, the Baron is said to dig their grave and meet their soul as it rises from that grave. He guides them into the underworld and only Baron Samedi has the power to accept an individual into the world of the dead. He also makes certain those who have died rot in the ground as they should, and no soul can return as a brainless zombie. For this act, he will demand payment which varies upon his mood at the time. On many occasions, he accepts gifts of cigars, rum, black coffee, or grilled peanuts but he may ask others to continue wearing black, white or purple.
Baron Samedi, is the head of the Guede family, the group of loas that control life and death. This powerful family of spirits possesses numerous abilities. The Baron is also a giver of life and can cure any mortal of a disease or wound provided he believes it is a worthwhile act to save the individual. The Baron even has the power to overcome voodoo hexes and curses. An individual who is cursed by a hex or other black magic is not guaranteed death if the Baron refuses to dig their grave. As the Master of the Dead and Guardian of Cemeteries, no one can enter the underworld without his permission. In this way, he can prevent death.
He a powerful healer and is especially sympathetic to terminally ill children. He can be just and kind. The Baron prefers children live full lives before joining him in the cemetery and underworld.
Baron Samedi is the crossroads where sex and death meet. The Spirit of an undying life-force and he may be petitioned for fertility. He is the guardian of ancestral knowledge and the link to ancestral spirits.
Baron Samedi is syncretized to Jesus because they both share the symbol of the cross. Baron Samedi’s associations with the cross may pre-date Christianity. In Congolese cosmology, the cross is the symbol of the life cycle: birth-death-rebirth.
Also known as: Bawon Samdi (Creole); Baron Sandi (Spanish); Baron Saturday
Favored people: Children; women seeking to conceive; funeral workers; grave diggers; any whose work brings them into contact with death
Manifestation: an older, dark-skinned man in formal attire, dressed completely in black. He wears a black top hat, black suit, and may be smoking one of his beloved cigars. He wears impenetrable black sunglasses (one lens may be missing because he simultaneously sees the realms of the living and the dead.
Iconography: A chair chained to a cross.
Attributes: Coffin; phallus; skull and cross-bones; shovel; grave; black sunglasses; cross.
Offerings: Black coffee, plain bread, dry toast, roasted peanuts. He drinks rum in which twenty-one very hot peppers have been steeped. Cigars, cigarettes, dark sunglasses, Day of the Dead toys (the sexier and more macabre the better); A skull and crossbones pirate flag; beautiful wrought-iron crosses are crafted in his honor.
Colours: Black but also red or purple
Feasts: 2 November, Day of the Dead.
Time: Twilight tends to be a good time to invoke him or make requests.
Consort: Madame Brigitte. They may both be petitioned together for fertility, protection, or to save sick children.
Freyr (Old Norse Freyr, “Lord”) is one of the Vanir gods and is also counted among the Aesir gods as a hostage after the Aesir-Vanir War.
Fryer’s father is the Vanir god Njord. Freyr has been the lover of numerous goddesses and giantesses and rumoured to include his own sister, Freya. Incest seems a common practice among the Vanir deities but not the Aesir.
Freyr was one of the most widely venerated divinities amongst the pagan Norse and other Germanic peoples. The reasons are easy to understand with the well-being and prosperity dependent on his benevolence which manifested in sexual and ecological fertility, bountiful harvests, wealth, and peace. His role governing fertility is symbolised in his golden-bristled boar Gullinborsti and its enormous, erect phallus.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Freyr was a frequent recipient of sacrifices at the blessing of a wedding or the celebration of a harvest. During harvest festivals, the sacrifice traditionally took the form of his favored animal, the boar.
His prominence even among the Aesir is clear in being included among the receiptients of prized dwarf-made gifts like Skíðblaðnir, a ship which always has a favorable wind and can be folded up and carried in a small bag.
Freyr dwells is Alfheim – the homeland of the elves. Freyr is never stated as a ruler of the elves and the relationship between the gods and the elves is ambiguous in many cases.
On land, Freyr travels in a chariot drawn by boars. This is another mythological feature that was reflected in historical ritual. From medieval Icelandic sources, priestesses and/or priests of Freyr traveled throughout the country on a chariot which contained a statue of the god. A similar practice occurred with the early Germanic goddess Nerthus – a Proto-Germanic form of Freyr’s father’s name, Njord.
During Ragnarok at the doom of the gods, it is Freyr and the fire giant Surt who are fated to destroy each other.
Also known as: Frey; Fro; Frothi; Frodi; Yngvi; Ing
Classification: Vanir god
Favoured people: Seafarers; lovers; brewers
Iconography: In his shrine at Uppsala, Freyr was represented as a virile man with a large, erect penis. An alternative image portrayed him as a young boy traveling across the sea. His image was often featured on armor and weapons.
Attributes: A sword that is removed independently from its scabbard and creates carnage wherever it is directed at. A ship whose sails always attract favourable winds but could be folded up and carried.
Associates Colours: Brown, gold, green.
Mounts: A chariot drawn by two boars. A massive, golden-bristled boar. A horse named Bloody Hooves.
Place of Veneration: Shrine in Uppsala, Sweden, where it continued to be a place of veneration to Freyr long after most of Scandinavia had converted to Christianity.
Associated Runes: Ehwaz, Fehu, and Ingwaz.
Offerings to Freyr: The Yule boar, or a male pig, is the annual sacrificial boar offered to Freyr in winter. Libations of fresh water, barley wine, ale, or mead.
Nyx is a very unique goddess. She has the ability to bring sleep or death. Even Zeus feared Nyx because she was older and stronger than him. She is the only goddess he’s ever known to fear.
She is often described as a winged or riding in a chariot across the sky, shrouded in mist with stars and the night unveiling behind her. She resides in the western part of Hades, where she and her daughter Hemera (Day) pass each other at sunrise and sunset.
Nyx is not a personification of evil in Greek mythology. She’s never spoken of having done anything more ‘evil’ than Zeus himself in any mythology. Yet, it is her mysterious and dark nature, that lead her to be viewed more villainous than she is.
In Greek mythology, Nyx married Erebus – the God of darkness. Nyx and Erebus had Hemera (Day) and Aither (Light). Hemera is literally Nyx’s opposite. When Nyx brings the dark veil of the night over the world, she is chased away each morning by Hemera.
Curiously, Nyx also created her own dark spirits including the Fates, Sleep, Death, Strife, and Pain. Other of Nyx’s children include Geras, Moros, Nemesis, the Keres and the Oneiroi.
Nyx appears in many important ancient greek poems. In the fragments of poetry Nyx is the first of all in creation. Before there was anything, there was darkness or ‘night’ and it was here that Nyx came to be. She is often portrayed in symbolism as a moon or stars due to her ending the daytime and bringing the night.
Nyx is considered either be helpful or harmful: she brings sleep and relief, or the opposite- she can bring pain and death.
The Ankou (Breton), Ankow (Cornish) or Angau (Welsh) from Celtic legend most commonly occurs in Brittany. Here you can still spot the Ankou haunting many of the churches and cathedrals. What is the Ankou? It’s defiant remnant of Pagan influence that had survived hidden among the stone-work of Christian buildings.
The Ankou haunts the graveyard and he is the last soul to die in the village before the stroke of midnight that year. Doomed to stay another year on earth – he acts as guardian of the graveyard – until another soul takes his place the following year.
The Ankou is described as a tall man dressed in black who is very thin or skeletal looking and has white hair kept under a wide brimmed hat. He is carries a scythe and he either pushes a wheelbarrow or rides a rickety cart that squeaks when it moves. The horse-drawn cart may be drawn by two horse – one is emaciated while the other is fat.
The Ankou is both the harbinger of death and also the collector of souls.
The Fear Gorta means Famine Man or Féar Gortach and refers to the Hungry or Famine Grass in Irish folklore.
The Famine or Hungry Man is a skeletal wraith and a harbinger of death. Féar Gortach is a folklore tale of a cursed patch of land where if you tread, you are doomed to die of starvation no matter how much you eat.
From Cork to Kilkenny and Galway to Connemara, tales of people losing their way on short routes across fields and being caught by the Hungry Grass.
A young man walking home on a sunny day, crosses through the field and is found days later, confuse, not knowing where he is and starving. He is taken home but no amount of nursing or food can save him from starving to death. Others are so overwhelmed by the touch of the cursed grass that they die from hunger where they stand. These victims of the Famine are also predatory, seeking others out to drag others onto the grass. The only protection is to carry a crust of bread in your pocket – but even that may not be enough to save you.
The Hungry Grass and the Hungry Man have two origins but the outcome facing either is much the same. Féar Gortach relates to one of the most dreadful eras in Irish history.
The Origins: The Irish Potato Fammine
It has many names: the Irish Great Hunger, The Great Famine and the Irish Potato Famine. The despair, death and devastation suffered in Ireland for almost a decade at the hands of British tyranny. Class discrimination, religious intolerance, enforced labour, deliberate starvation and forced exile were all endured under the dark skies and harsh winter after harsh winter.
British penal laws meant that parliamentary representatives were primarily British nationals and their male descendants were granted landed estates in Ireland. Irish Catholics who had previously had property had it confiscated and were forbidden from owning or leasing land or voting. The penal law was largely repealed before 1830, however Irish Catholics had to settle for leasing land back from the British landowners.
The potato was only introduced into Ireland in the 18th century but it soon became a staple food because of it was hardy enough to survive the Irish weather and it was a cheap product that went far for a family.
Unfortunately, potato crops became infested with an airborne fungus called phytophthorainfestans, also known as potato blight. It soon became a countrywide disaster.
British Corn Laws were still in existence and fixed at an artificially high tariff on imports to protect British corn prices and keep them in control of the market. A petition was put forward for Queen Victoria to repeal the high tax – which did happen – but too late. This, combined with a high level of produce being exported out of Ireland by British landowners and merchants resulted in a food shortage of catastrophic proportions brought Ireland to its knees.
Charles Trevelyan and Black ‘47
Attempts at temporary relief measures were mismanaged and local committees would be unruly and incapable of the organisation required to put these measures in place successfully. Just when it was thought that things couldn’t get any worse, it did,
Charles Trevelyan was assigned the relief effort and he would become one of the most hated men in Irish history. Trevelyan was a civil servant with no compassion, empathy or connection to the Irish people he was tasked to assist.
His methods at creating employment, bringing food to the table and restarting the Irish economy were drawn out, complicated and ultimately, failed. Trevelyan and the British government were operating on the principle that the blight would be short lived and that nature would run its course.
The first year of the potato blight and food shortages was dire, but the Irish kept going with their small import of corn, selling off the little livestock they owned and borrowing money from brutal loaners.
The British Prime Minister Robert Peel had supplied Ireland with its corn imports but following his resignation in 1846, Trevelyan took complete control and cut off Ireland from further imports so the Irish weren’t relying on British support. Despite his procedures to develop a working economy in Ireland had failed.
The collapse of social systems and infrastructure and absence of food, Trevelyan sent soldiers to try to install order. One of the most brutal winters hit Ireland and under Trevelyan half a million Irish were out in the blizzards building roads. Men, women, children – barley clothed, starving and freezing – died where they stood.
1847 become known as ‘Black 47’ – the worst year of the Great Hunger. The population was emaciated and desperately trying to work on Trevelyan’s enterprises for almost no wages or food. Children went without any sustenance as their parents needed whatever food they had to work on road-building.
Disease ravished Ireland and most died from typhus, dysentery and the black fever rather than malnutrition. Finally, all of Trevelyan’s projects were closed down and soup kitchens and charity introduced but far too slowly and on too small a scale. In 1847 the third potato harvest failed.
The Rise of Fear Gorta & Féar Gortach
Death was the common and the dead were tossed into carts and tossed into makeshift graves without so much as a blessing and their souls condemned to Purgatory.
All over Ireland hundreds of mass graves were dug, and these Famine Graveyards as they became known were originally un-consecrated, although in later years many became memorialised and recognised as consecrated ground.
Others remained buried in cold, unhallowed ground and over the top of these mass graves the grass grew sparsely and it was cursed. It was hungry. From this situation, the Hungry Grass and the emaciated figure known as the Hungry Man emerged.
Supernatural origins and Lore
The most common lore behind the Féar Gortach is that is occurs as a result of fairy magic. Found in fields and cursed by the fairies of the Unseelie Court who use dark magic.
Whether as a source of famine or fairy folk, to stand on the Hungry Grass equals death. Slowly, starvation begins and the sufferer descends into madness. They eat and eat but no amount of food will ever satiate their hunger. Ultimately, the victim withers away and dies.
The Fear Gorta, or Hungry Man is not a man at all, but a Fae being. He’s associated with famine because his dreadful skeletal appearance, gaunt and haggard. His sallow skin is stretched thinly over an emaciated body. His clothing is made of tatters and rags and he looks like the walking dead. His appearance during times of great hardship and Famine. The Fear Gorta can be malevolent or benevolent, depending on his mood and the welcome he receives. He is known to call house to house begging and if he is treated kindly, he has the ability to bestow good blessings and wealth on those he deems worthy. Those who are unkind will feel his wrath and suffer abject poverty, famine and death.
There are no certain ways to defend yourself against either the Fear Gorta or Féar Gortach, but there are wardings and protections to carry a crust of bread in your pocket which may protect from the starvation effects of stepping on the Hungry Grass. It is believed that bread crumbs spread on the cursed grass will reverse the curse on those recently afflicted. Ultimately, salting and burning the field will bring closure to the cursed.
The Fear Gorta is a different issue. He is a solitary Fae without a master. There is no protection from his power. Decimation and despair will wake him and his withered, skeletal finger will point to his next victim.
Ereshkigal in Near Eastern mythology (Babylonian – Assyrian) was the goddess of the underworld, married to the war god Nergal.
Ereshkigal ruled over the Mesopotamian realm of death. She is Inanna’s sister, rival, or alter-ego as descriptions of her and her realm are found in the Sumerian hymn, The Descent of Inanna (available in English translation). This is the descent Inanna makes into Irkalla-Ereshkigal’s realm of death.
Ereshkigal is great and powerful and possesses power over life: has access to the Water of Life and is capable of resurrecting the dead.
She is a tempestuous, volatile and aggressive. She commands and compels the dead with her powers are invoked in necromantic spells from the magical papyri of Alexandria, Egypt.
An Akkadian hymn recounts the union of Ereshkigal and Nergal. Nergal was delegated to deliver food offerings to Ereshkigal and they unexpectedly fell passionately in love and she conceived. When Nergal returned to his home in the court of the spirits, Ereshkigal threatened the supreme authorities with an army of the raised dead to devour the living unless Nergal was sent back to her. Unless her “request” was granted, the dead would outnumber the living. No attempts were made to call her challenge and Nergal was allowed to return.
Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld
Ereshkigal plays a prominent role in the myth known as ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld’ . Inanna is the Queen of Heaven and Ereshkigal’s younger sister. In the myth, Inanna journeyed to the Underworld to observe the funeral rites of Gugalanna, Ereshkigal’s husband. Although Inanna was allowed to pass through the seven gates of the Underworld, Ereshkigal instructed her gatekeeper, Neti, to remove a piece of clothing or jewelry from her sister as each gate was opened. This may be interpreted as the gradual removal of Inanna’s power as she progressed deeper into the realm belonging to her sister. Finally, when Inanna reached Ereshkigal’s throne room, she was completely naked and powerless. After the Annuna of the Dead passed judgment on her, Inanna was killed by Ereshkigal and her corpse hung from a hook on the wall. The gods succeeded in rescuing Inanna and removed her from the Underworld alive.
Manifestations: Ereshkigal may manifest as a woman but she may also appear with a lioness’ head on a woman’s body.
Attributes: Her scepter is a snake.
Allies: Gestinana and Belit-Seri, Lady of the Desert, serve as Ereshkigal’s personal secretaries, writing down her decrees.
Animals: Snakes, scorpions, lions
Realm: Irkalla, realm of no return; realm of the dead.
Offerings: Made to the dead find their way to Ereshkigal.
The Amikuk is a monster from Inuit legend that is as deadly on land as it is in the water. They possess a deep hatred for al humans and actively hunt for kayakers in the open waters off the Alaskan coast.
The Amikuk are often described as extremely long but almost human-like in shape. They are covered in thick, slimy dark skin that has the appearance of old leather and long, wide-set, spindly arms with fingers that taper off into sharp points. They’re often seen with two legs but have – on occasion – been seen to have four.
While in the water, the Amikuk is constantly hunting for passing kayaks. It presses itself up against floating sea ice and waits – perfectly still – until the ideal time to attack. Once a victim paddles close enough to the waiting Amikuk, it pushes off the sea ice and positions itself beneath the kayak. Without warning the monster pushes its long arms and legs out from the water to wrap tightly about the vessel before pulling it under the water. Once beneath the water, the Amikuk tries to drown the human kayaker.
Even though the Amikuk is extremely deadly it doesn’t always kill its victim after pulling them into the water. Sometimes people were able to swim back to the sea ice before the Amikuk disengages it’s spindly limbs from the kayak. Even is they escape the Amikuk’s grasp it possesses the ability to burrow into both earth and ice follow, unresting and unrelenting until the person is finally caught by it.
The Amikuk produces a thumping noise moving through the earth that echoes from the main tunnel and into the surrounding area. The vibrations caused by its movement are said to be strong enough to freeze a fleeing victim in their tracks and allows it enough time to burst through the ground/ice below and kill the human above.
While a majority of the legends about the Amikuk depict it as being nothing more than a deadly monster, other legends talk of it being magical as well.
In one story, the Amikuk is said to create a bird-like nest which it protects with extreme devotion even though it contains no eggs or young but a few scraps of magical fur or animal hide. If a human manages to steal the Amikuk’s nest, the scraps of fur inside are able to repair anything broken. It was also believed the furs were capable of creating great riches from nowhere if the nest remains in the possession of the one who stole it.
Another legend of the Amikuk tells of it being able to shape shift into an almost human form. While in this form, it must pull a sled and can only walk in a straight line. If a human were to see an approaching Amikuk in this form, they can sit directly in its path. Since it must only walk in a straight line, it won’t be able to avoid the sitting person and begins to panic. While in this panicked state, the Amikuk offers a gift in order to get the sitter to move, but the sitter shouldn’t accept it. The refusal of the offering causes the Amikuk to become desperate and it will offer a better gift each time the sitter refuses until the final and most valuable gift is offered. On acceptance of this offer, the sitter will move and be extremely wealthy and the Amikuk can continue on its way.
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