Top Ten Mythological Warrior Women

We all have our favorite warrior goddess, but there are many lady fighters in mythology that slip through the cracks of pop culture. There are so many I hope come into the mainstream and these are just a few.

mouth-603274_960_720Marya Morevna

A lot of early Slavic folktales actually depicted women rescuing men and Marya was one of those. A warlike queen who goes on a quest to save her abducted husband from an ogre, Marya deserves a Disney movie.

Britomart

Some traditions say that after the death of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere became a nun. Others (which I like better) say she became the great warrior Britomart, the mythological lady knight included Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.

sword-1557814_960_720Atalanta

Atalanta was a servant of Artemis, known for slaying centaurs and monster bears. She was also the only female fighter on the quest for the Golden Fleece and there seems to be a shortage of myth retellings about her.

Radigund

An Amazonian ruler who fights Britomart in The Faerie Queene. She has made me seriously question why people don’t talk about this book more.

girl-606972_960_720Melora

Also from Arthurian tradition, Melora is the only female Knight of the Round Table. When her beloved Orlando is abducted, Melora leaves England and ventures into foreign lands to save him, rescuing kings along the way.

Anat

From the Ugarit religion, Anat embodied love, fertility, and war. She was often unstable, but loyal to the sun god, Baal. There are stories about her beheading hundreds of men single-handedly because they wronged Baal. She was terrifying.

lioness-753438_960_720Sekhmet

A half-lioness, bloodthirsty deity from Egyptian lore, Sekhmet became so powerful that she had to be tricked into drinking spiked pomegranate juice. She was so dangerous, even Osiris couldn’t stop her otherwise.

Brynhilde

From the Germanic and Old Norse traditions, her name means “armored fighting woman.” Possibly based off a real person, Brynhilde swore to never marry a man unless he could surpass her in strength. She was much more fearsome before Wagner’s opera made her into a lovesick waif.

durga-727064_960_720Durga

A violent aspect of the Hindu goddess Shatki, Durga is the demon slayer who rides a tiger, carrying a different weapon in each of her eight arms. Associated with primordial power and unlimited strength, Durga is be-all, end-all of warrior woman mythology.

Medb

Although more a tactician than an actual warrior, Medb had her origins as a sovereignty deity who later became villainized in modern retellings. Powerful, shrewd, and feared, it’s easy to see how she became an “evil queen,” but she was originally a neutral figure.

As I said, there are so many out there! I have to wonder why writers and other artists keep going to Kali and Athena every time they need a warrior goddess. There are so many options!

Did I forget your favorite legendary warrior woman? Did this give you any story ideas? Let me know in the comments!

Lessons from Greek Mythology: A little party might kill everybody

I have never been one for parties or clubbing (a noisy room full of sweaty strangers, who wouldn’t love that?), but apparently that is what people my age are expected to do. Nonetheless, I am a reader and as Edgar Allen Poe (The Masque of the Red Death) and Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet) taught us, such gatherings are dangerous things. But perhaps the hazards are not so perfectly illustrated outside of Greek mythology. Seriously, it was a wonder people kept going to these things.

The Trojans learned the hard way.

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They thought they had just won a long and laborious war that had lasted over a decade. As far as they knew, their enemies had run away and left this big wooden horse as an offering, so what did they do? They threw a huge shindig, got plastered, and while they were all passed out, Greeks climbed out of the wooden horse and opened the gates, letting in more Greeks who killed/imprisoned them all.

And Andromeda’s old flame…and all his buddies.

There was this bloke, Phineus, who was engaged to Andromeda before she was bound to the rock and left out for the sea monster and so on and so forth. When Phineus heard that Andromeda was now supposed to be married to Perseus—who had rescued her from aforementioned sea monster—he was a little upset.

Therefore, Phineus barged into the wedding feast with a gaggle of his friends and a whole bunch of swords to claim the princess. Needless to say, Perseus was not particularly pleased about this. After a bit of bashing each other around, Perseus got sick of fighting and uncovered the head of Medusa, turning Phineus and his friends into stone.

Not to mention the suitors of Penelope.

Firstly, if a woman puts you off for close to two decades, I think it’s safe to say she’s not all that into you. In any event, these creeps hung around the apparently dead Odysseus’ house, waiting for Penelope to pick a new husband.

It was one big feast that went on without end and they started to eat Penelope out of house and home. Then all of a sudden, her wayward husband returns from his seven-year dalliance with a goddess and locks the suitors into the banquet hall while he and his son proceed to kill everyone in the room.

I could go on, but I think I have made my point. Greek stories were not big on morality, but there is one thing they have taught me—no matter what happens, no matter what you do, DON’T GO TO THE PARTY.

Five little known tidbits about Athena

Everyone’s heard of Athena, right? Even many people who don’t obsess over the details of mythology like yours truly have heard of the virgin goddess of wisdom. She was very popular with the Greeks and remains popular today, but there are still several lesser known legends about her that don’t get mentioned very often.

She had a twin brother

Zeus once had an affair with Metis, daughter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. Metis was noted for her brains as well as her great beauty (Metis translates to “cunning intelligence”), but when she became pregnant with twins, Zeus received a prophecy that her son would overthrow him. Since a similar prophecy had been made about Zeus and his father (and it came true), the king of the gods took this sort of thing seriously. He swallowed Metis before she could give birth, but Hephaestus split Zeus’s head with an ax and Athena burst out, fully grown and shrieking a battle cry.

Hephaestus wanted to marry her

The smith god, Hephaestus, once asked Zeus’s permission to marry Athena (because apparently, Aphrodite just wasn’t good enough). Zeus agreed, under the condition that Athena consented, but she wanted to remain celibate

She wasn’t just Goddess of Wisdom

Athena was also the patron of crafts—pottery, weaving, embroidery—shipbuilding, and the city of Athens. People who were gifted with weaving would say their talents came from Athena.

She had an adoptive son

Hephaestus and Mother Earth had Erichtonius, who Athena agreed to raise. The boy grew up to be the ruler of Athens, which I think we can safely say was no coincidence.

The Oedipus debacle was her fault (kind of)

Once when Athena was bathing in the sacred spring on Mount Helicon, a mortal man named Tiresias came and spied on her while she was naked. Outraged, Athena struck him in the eyes, making him blind. But one of the nymphs attending Athena asked she give him something as a consolation prize. Athena then granted Tiresias the ability of prophecy, which the man later used to inform King Oepidus that he had married his mother.

You see? Bits of lore fall through the cracks for even the most widely known mythological figures. What’s your favorite lesser known fact about Athena, or any Olympian for that matter?

Happy Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve/Halloween!

A few years ago, I read a book by a tragically underrated literary genius, Madeleine L’Engle. An Acceptable Time is a comfortable resident on my highly selective Shelf of Awesome and one of only five books I have read more than once for pleasure (the other four being the previous books in this series). It deals with themes of mercy, tolerance, love, and forgiveness, a classic that I believe is still completely relevant today.

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It takes place leading up to and following the Gaelic holiday of Samhain (pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ SAH-win or /ˈs.ɪn/ SOW-in), also known as Halloween. Samhain was a festival to mark the end of the harvest season and the start of winter and  was observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man while similar festivals were held in Brittany, Wales, and Cornwall at the same time of the year. It is still traditionally celebrated by Wiccans and Celtic Reconstructionists.

Mumming (acting) and guising (disguising oneself) and going door to door in exchange for food were a part of the Samhain celebrations. The costuming may have been a way of hiding from the Aos Sí, a race of fairies from Scottish and Irish mythology closely associated with Samhain.

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Samhain is known to have pre-Christian roots, but in 835, Louis the Pious switched the Roman Catholic holiday of All Saints Day or All Hallows from May 13th to November 1st. This made the last day of October into All Hallows Eve and the two holidays were eventually consolidated into the secular holiday of Halloween.

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Guising appears to have reemerged in Scotland in the late 19th century, but would not be recorded in North America until 1911 in Ontario. By the twenties, guising had spread to Chicago and by the late thirties, dressing up and demanding sweets from one’s neighbors became common practice as well as the term “trick or treat,” leading to the Halloween of this century!

So there you have it, a brief history of today’s holiday. Whether you call it Halloween or are like me and it makes you feel smart to say “Samhain,” have fun tonight and don’t get carried off by anything malevolent!

(If I got any of my facts wrong, please correct me. I love learning!)

Love Triangles in Arthurian Lore

One might say that the love triangle is the most common theme in Arthurian lore. There is, of course, the one that everyone knows, the one between King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Queen Guinevere. However, there are also countless others that seem to go unmentioned.

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The earliest triangle in the legends goes back before Arthur is even born. Uther Pendragon, the King of Britain, falls in lust with the Duchess of Cornwall, Igraine. Igraine is, however, already married to the Duke of Cornwall. So with the help of Merlin, Uther magically disguises himself as the duke and appears in the duchess’ bedchamber. Some stuff happens and the result is a baby who will become King Arthur.

Tristan & Isolde

Tristan and Isolde from the 2006 film

Perhaps the second most widely-known Arthurian love triangle is that of King Mark, Sir Tristan, and Queen Isolde. Sir Tristan was a Knight of the Round Table and his middle-aged uncle, King Mark of Cornwall (don’t ask me how it went from being a duchy to a kingdom), was to wed a young princess from across the sea. Sir Tristan, being a good nephew, agreed to fetch his future aunt, the lovely Isolde. Isolde’s father wished for her to have a happy marriage and gave her a love potion that she was supposed to give Mark on their wedding night. However, there was a bit of a mix-up on the sail back to Cornwall and Tristan and Isolde ended up drinking it, falling madly, completely and irrevocably in love. Their story ended predictably in tragedy.

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The funny thing is, some people could be involved in more than one love triangle. Lancelot for instance, was in the triangle of Guinevere-Lancelot-Arthur plus the triangle of Elaine-Guinevere-Lancelot. Sir Gawain had a thing for the ladies and one might say he was in a love dodecagon until he was finally forced to marry a nice girl, settled down, and ultimately fell for her. And there are literally dozens more.

Lancelot and Guinevere

One must ask, why is the love triangle such a common theme? Well, it must be taken into account that many of the medieval texts documenting the Arthurian legends were written by writers on commission from noblewomen who had been pushed into arranged marriages. Most love triangles in Arthurian lore involve a married woman finding true love outside the bonds of wedlock, an idea those women would probably have found appealing. Not to mention that the male lovers in the stories tend to be obedient and devoted slaves to their ladies, something else that the noblewomen of the English courts probably enjoyed. Just hope that their husbands didn’t get a look at what their wives were reading…

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But no matter. I will forever be grateful to those capitalist authors for preserving these (slightly altered) stories for future generations. Because without them, we would probably have no King Arthur, no Merlin, no Lady of the Lake, no Mordred, no Questing Beast, and a world without them would be a sad place indeed.

So what do you think of Arthurian love triangles? Love triangles in general?

What about the HEA?

Happy St. Valentine’s Day, my lovelies! Today I decided to talk about mythological love stories that end with those three magical words: Happily Ever After.

There seems to be a theme of love stories in folklore that end badly—Medea and Jason, Tristan and Isolde, Siegfrid and Brynhilde, Ino and Athamas, Inanna and Dumuzi…the list goes on and on. So I thought I would look for a few where they DIDN’T die at the end and preferably lived “happily ever after.” While it was kind of like looking for a heart-shaped chocolate box in a funeral parlor, I managed to remember these four to share with you.

Ivan and Yelena

The Slavic folktale of the Firebird, a young stable boy is sent by the king to fetch a young princess named Yelena whom the king wishes to marry. However, on the journey back, Yelena and Ivan fall for one another. Ivan’s friend, a shape-shifting wolf, comes up with a plan. The wolf shifts into the form of a princess who is even more beautiful than Yelena and gets the king to take him to the chapel to marry him instead. In the midst of the wedding ceremony, the wolf shifts back into his true form and the poor king dies of fright. Ivan ends up becoming the new king with Yelena as his queen. While I’m not quite sure about the moral of the story, I can’t complain about the HEA.

Gesar Khan and Sechan Dugmo

The Epic of Gesar Khan is a tale told by both the Tibetan and Mongol peoples, set in Ling, Tibet. Gesar’s story holds many similarities to the Arthurian legends in that he unites the people and rules them justly. He cares for his wife, Sechan Dugmo, very dearly and she loves him back. After a great deal of adventure, their story ends with them leaving the country in the capable hands of their heirs and journeying to paradise.

Márya Morévna and Prince Ivan

Another Slavic folktale tells the story of a young and handsome prince who comes across a slain army whilst riding. After making inquiries, he discovers that this is the army of Koschei the Immortal, a fearsome ogre, defeated by the equally fearsome warrior queen, Márya Morévna. The queen and prince meet, fall in love, and get married, but then the queen leaves once again for war. Prince Ivan goes exploring in his wife’s castle and accidentally unleashes Koschei the Immortal, whom Márya had managed to imprison. Koschei abducts Prince Ivan and it is his wife who has to go and rescue him. After nearly losing her head to a witch, the warrior queen manages to rescue her husband, and finally finds a way to destroy the ogre forever. The couple return to her castle and live in peace thereafter.

Ywain and Laudine

Chrétien de Troyes wrote about these two lovers in his poem The Knight of the Lion. Ywain and Laudine are rather unusual for Arthurian sweethearts in that their romance is not adulterous and actually ends in marriage. Though their love story has plenty of trouble before we get to the HEA, we get one and that’s the important part.

You see? Not every story in mythology has to be a tragedy. Most of them, yes, but not all. So do you have a favorite folktale that ends in HEA?