Folklore Thursday Week 1 – A

Aka abandoned children, Aido-Hwedo, amrita, and Audhumla

Welcome to the first in a series of 26 weekly folklore and mythology posts on Hersenskim! This week I am focusing on some mythology and folklore beginning with “A”. As I want to focus on some of the lesser-known elements rather than to focus on well-known figures and myths, I am focusing on amrito, abandoned children, Aido-Hwedo, and Audhumla this week.

The official #FolkloreThursday site can be read over here and remember to follow the Twitter conversation using the #FolkloreThursday tag.

The main sources of this post are:

Tressider, J. (ed.) (2004). The Complete Dictionary of Symbols in Myth, Art, and Literature. London: Duncan Baird Publishers Ltd.

Wilkinson, P. (2009). Myths & Legends: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. London: DK London.

Abandoned Children

There are so many stories in folktales and mythology that has to do with abandoned children that I am not going to try and name them all here. You probably know the story of Hansel and Gretel and have heard about Romulus and Remus who was raised by a wolf and were the ancestors of Rome. But do you know the tales about these abandoned children?

Besides Romulus and Remus, there is also the twin sons of Zeus and Antiope who were abandoned and “grew up to be the founders of Thebes” (Wilkinson, 2009:56)

Both Zal of Persia and the Greek huntress Atalanta were also raised by animals; Zal by the legendary Simurgh bird and Atalanta by a bear.

Atalanta Statue
More details The “Barberini Atalanta”,[1] formerly in the Barberini Palace, Rome, now in the Vatican, inv. 2784. Either Greek original, 1st century BC or Roman copy, 2nd century AD (Wikipedia Commons)
Some children, like Paris of Troy, are abandoned because they are “omens of ill fortune” (2009:57). Other such children are Lord Krishna and Cyrus the Great. About them, Wilkinson notes the following:

“Before he was born, it was foretold that Krishna… would kill Kamsa, his evil uncle. Kamsa therefore ordered Krishna to be killed, but Krishna’s father saved the baby boy” (Wilkinson, 2009:57).


“Legend has it that a herdsman saved the Persian ruler, Cyrus, as a baby when he was ordered to be killed after his destiny was foretold: (Wilkinson, 2009:57).

Another pair of abandoned children are found in Fijian myth. “In Fijian myth, the first humans were a boy and a girl, the abandoned children of the hawk Turukawa. The snake god Degei brought them up and they come together to create the human race” (Wilkinson, 2009:339).


Aido-Hwedo is a great serpent found in the mythology of the Fon people of Dahomey (2009:250). This elemental mal serpent is coiled around the Earth and supports it (and in some accounts of the myth the sky as well) and is “visible as the colourful rainbow” (2009:251). Wilkinson (2009:251) also notes that “one day Aido-Hwedo will eat his own tail, and the world will fall into the sea”.

In “Making the Earth”, Wilkinson (2009:250) notes how Aido-Hwedo defined the world by his serpentine motion, created winding rivers and valleys, and shaped the world’s high and low places. When he paused his “excrement built up, creating higher mountains” and solidified into rock which “[hid] inside… all the precious metals that Aido-Hwedo expelled from his body” (2009:250). Therefore, the serpent “became the source of all the rich mineral resources” (2009:250) in the ground.


In Hindu myth, amrita is the elixir of immortality (Tressider, 2004:107). In this myth, “[t]he Devas and Asuras assembled on Mount Meru and pondered how to win the amrita”. Vishnu suggests churning the ocean to produce the elixir and the divinities agree. They “[uproot] Mount Mandara to use as a churning paddle, setting it on the back of a tortoise” (Tressider, 2004:107). They churn the ocean and the sap of the plants turn the ocean first into milk and then butter. “Finally the physician Dhavantari emerged from the ocean, bearing the amrita” (Tressider, 2004:107), which the Devas drink after Vishnu trick the Asuras “into surrendering the elixir” (Tressider, 2004:107). The “enraged Asuras” (Tressider, 2004:107) then battle with the Devas, but are defeated by them.

Vishnu with the amrita
Mohini, the female form of Vishnu, holding the pot of amrit which she distributes amongst all the devas, leaving the asuras without. Darasuram, Tamil Nadu, India (Wikipedia Commons)



Audhumla is the primal cow in the Norse mythology that play a part in the creation myth. In the myth, the ice of Niflheim “continued to melt into the shape of a huge cow called Audhumla, and her milk fed the frost giants” (Wilkinson, 2009:90). Audhumla in turn licked the salty ice blocks and, from it, release the giant Buri. (Buri’s son, Bor, married Bestla and their children were Odin, Vili, and Ve.)

In his Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, John Lindow states that “[a]lthough cows are not uncommon in creation stories from around the world, what is most striking about Audhumla is that she unites the two warring groups in the mythology by nourishing Ymir, ancestor of all giants, and bringing into the light Buri, progenitor of the aesir” (2002:63).

Painting Audhumla Ymir
While Ymir suckles at the udder of Auðumbla, Búri is licked out of the ice in this 18th-century painting by Nicolai Abildgaard (1790)

To read more about the Norse mythology creation myth, you can read the Gylfaginning in the Younger/Prose Edda (the translation by Jessy Byock is especially reader-friendly), or follow these links:

Other Sources:

Lindow, J. (2002). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sturluson, S. & J. Byock (Trans.). (2005). The Prose Edda. London: Penguin Classics.

By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.


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