Welcome to the second instalment of the alphabetical look at folklore and mythology from around the world. This week I’ll be looking at some figures beginning with the letter ‘b’. These include the Benu bird, Blue Tezcatlopoca, Bunyip, Byelobog, and the Bram-Bram-Bult. It’s so difficult to choose only a few!
The main sources of this post:
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.
You’ve probably heard of the phoenix, but have you heard of the Benu bird? “The phoenix legend had its origin in the city of Heliopolis, ancient centre of Egyptian sun worship, where sacrifices were made to the heron-like Benu Bird as the creative spirit of the sun” (Tressider, 2004:387). Tressider (2004:387) also notes that “phoenix” is a Greek word that may derive from “Benu”.
The phoenix, at the end of about 500 years (Tressider, 2004:387) would build “an aromatic nest) (Tressider, 2004:387) before immolating itself to be reborn after three days. The ashes of the nest and its previous body would then be carried to the altar of the sun in Heliopolis.
See also Tressider page 388 for the manner in which the phoenix is used in the Roman, Christian, Jewish, Persian, and Chinese legends, myths, and traditions as well as similar legends.
Blue Tezcatlipoca, also known as Huitzilopochti, is the “’Hummingbird of the South’, the god of the sun and war, the national god of the Aztecs” (Tressider, 2004:243). Tressider (2004:243) notes that he may have “begun as a legendary hero” who was then deified.
Tressider (2004:243) further writes: “[h]e was conceived by magic when a heavenly ball of down entered the womb of his mother, the goddess Coatlicue…” (2004:243). (To read more about her pregnancy, death, and Blue Tezcatlipoca’s birth, see Tressider, page 243.) Blue Tezcatlipoca is said to have “guided the Aztec people from their place of origin, aztlan, on a great southward trek to the future site of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire (modern Mexico City)” (Tresidder, 2004:243). Blue Tezcatlipoca/Huitzilopochti is the “lord of the Fifth Sun, the current world epoch” (Tressider, 2004:243) and is “closely associated with war and death (Tressider, 2004:243). Tressider (2004:244) also states “[Blue Tezcatlipoca] was central to the Aztec cult of human sacrifice, which was believed necessary to feed Tonatiuh, the sun, with whom the god was identified”. His most important shrine, where human sacrifice also took place, is at Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan (see also Tressider (2004:244).
Wilkinson notes in Myths & Legends (2009) that “a number of Aboriginal myths centre around pairs of brothers” (2009:334). One of these pairs are Yuree and Wanjel, who are also known as the Bram-Bram-Bult (2009:334). These two brothers also bring the “world around them into existence, by naming all the plants, rocks, trees, and rivers of the region, gradually transforming a chaotic void into a vibrant landscape” (2009:334).
At the end of the story of the Bram-Bram-Bult, Wanjel was bitten by a poisonous snake called Gertuk (2009:335). Wanjel died and, in order to bring him back to life, Yuree carved a tree into a figure resembling his brother and magically gave it life (2009:335). “[T]he two brothers continued on their travels… [and]… finally reached the end of their country…” (2009:335). They took to living in a cave until their death, whereafter they “ascended into the sky” (2009:335).
In some accounts of the myth the brothers live on as the two bright stars of the constellation of Gemini, Pollox and Castor (2009:334).
You can read more about the brothers’ exploits and adventures in Myths & Legends, page 334 and 335.
The Bunyip is a mythological creature “said by the Aborigines to dwell in water holes, rivers, and swamps, and to catch human beings with its fearsome claws before crushing and devouring them” (Pemberton, 2011). The appearance of the Bunyip differs greatly – “[s]ome talk of a giant starfish-like creature, while others describe an alligator-like body married to a dog-like or walrus-like face (Pemberton, 2011), but all agree “that it is vast in size and fearsome in temperament” (Pemberton, 2011). Some also believe that the Bunyip is the source of all evil. For more about the myth, you can see Pemberton’s Myths and Legends: From Cherokee Dances to Voodoo Trances (2011).
And now, lastly, on to Slavic mythology…
Byelobog is a benevolent god (Wilkinson, 2009:143). Along with the “wicked god, Chernobog, [they] are two of the most ancient deities of Slavic mythology” (Wilkinson, 2009:143). Some of the creation stories tell of how these two deities created the world together before having a fallout. After this Byelobog and Chernobog was perpetually at war. Wilkinson (2009:143) further writes: “[p]eople said that [Byelobog] was held in special regard because he was one of the most prominent companions of the sun god Dazhbog” and further notes that, if worshipped, he would ensure a good harvest. Byelobog is depicted both as a powerful light and an old man with a white beard (Wilkinson, 2009:143).
You can also check out some of the following blogs or the hashtag #FolkloreThursday for some more folklore and mythic goodness.