Friday, April 17, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday--The Gold Giving Serpent

The fairy tale for this week is from India: Indian Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs.

Now here's a portion of the entry "sacred Animals" from Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism regarding the Cobra:

Nāga: The Snake

Of all the animals worshipped in India, the cobra snake has probably been the most important and has the longest history. A very complex symbolism and history are attached to the sacred snake in Hinduism, and snake worship has multiple origins and represents a plurality of traditions. Snake worship includes the direct worship of the fearsome and dangerous living snakes, worship of the nāga deities associated with water, and the conception of the vedic Vṛtra connected to the cosmic struggle of the god Indra. Vṛtra, the enemy of Indra in the Ṛgveda, is also called Ahi (“Snake”) and might refer to a primordial snake in control of the cosmic water. The word for the divine snake is nāga, which is also the name of tribes of humans, and elephants are called nāga as well. Nāga as a name for snakes is used mostly only for cobras as divinities. “The Nāga of Indian mythology and folklore,” wrote J.P. Vogel, “is not really the snake in general, but the cobra raised to the rank of divine being” (Vogel, 1926, 27). In the early Ṛgveda and in the Atharvaveda, the word ahi is used for snakes as well as mythological serpents. In the later part of the Veda, sarpa is used. The word nāga appears in the Brahmaṇas the Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas (and the Buddhist Jātakas), and here nāga is used only for the mythological serpents, while snakes living in nature are called sarpas. In Amarakośa, a Sanskrit lexicon, nāga is not listed as a synonym for snake. Cobras, in contrast, are called nāgas, and in religious art, nāgas typically have cobra hoods in both their zoomorphic and anthropomorphic shapes (Semeka-Pankratov, 1979; Vogel, 1926).
The nāgas are connected to water – to rain as well as the dark, creative, cosmic waters of the underworld. They are thought to hide in the interior of the earth and to appear on the surface, particularly during rainy season. They inhabit lakes and rivers, and the ocean is said to be their abode. The cobra was often thought to reside under trees and in the anthills, which were thought to be entrances to the underworld. The snake world (Nāgaloka) is described in the Mahābhārata as a delightful abode full of wealthy palaces, and the cobra was therefore thought of as guardian of treasures. The nāgas are associated with weather phenomena such as rainstorms and lightening and are believed to control the rain. The poisonous snake represents danger and power over life and death. The snake leaving its skin behind symbolized longevity or immortality, and it is a simile of mokṣa (liberation) and of the way one who is liberated leaves evil behind (Vogel, 1926).
Hinduism contains a rich nāga mythology. The nāgas are important figures, especially in the first book of the Mahābhārata, the Ādiparvan, which contains numerous nāga stories (in the Pauṣya, Puloman, and Āstīka chapters), but narratives about sacred snakes are found throughout the Mahābhārata (Minkowski, 1991). King Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice (sarpasattra) in the Khāṇḍava Forest is the frame story of the Mahābhārata (Minkowski, 1991).The story of the origin of the nāgas is told in connection with the snake sacrifice. The nāgas are presented as sons of Kadrū, whose sister Vinatā is the mother of Garuḍa. The nāgas and Garuḍa are enemies, and enmity of Garuḍa and his cousins the nāgas is a favorite theme in Indian literature and art (Vogel, 1924). Kadrū fraudulently won a bet against Vinatā, and those of Kadrū’s sons who had refused to be partners in the fraud were to perish in King Janamejaya’s sacrifice. The sacrifice was to be performed because of the violent death of his father Parikṣit, who, while hunting, met a sage who had taken a vow of silence, so Parikṣit insulted him by throwing a dead snake round his shoulders when he did not answer. The son of the sage cursed the king: on the seventh day, the lord of snakes Takṣaka was to take the king to the god of death, Yama. The king took all possible precautions, but at the end of the seventh day, the king ate a piece of fruit with a small worm inside. The worm, it turned out, was Takṣaka, who, after he had been eaten, assumed his real form and bit the king. The bite killed the king, and the heat of the poison even caused the palace to burn down (Vogel, 1924). One of Kadrū’s sons, the snake Śeṣa (“Remainder”), who is also called Ananta (“Without End”), secluded himself from his brothers and became an ascetic with matted hair and bark garments. When Brahmā asked him what was the aim of his asceticism, Śeṣa answered that he refused to stay with his brothers who hated Garuḍa and one another. Śeṣa chose the boon from Brahmā that his mind would rejoice in righteousness, tranquility, and asceticism ( tapas ). Brahmā asked him to bear the earth, and since then Śeṣa has carried the earth on his head, enveloping her in his coils (Vogel, 1924). A dominant theme of the Mahābhārata is the pralaya (destruction) and the end of a yuga (era; see cosmic cycles). Only two survive this pralaya, and one of them is Śeṣa, whose name signifies this fact (Minkowski, 1991). Another nāga of importance is Vāsuki, who had been anointed as king of nāgas, according to the Mahābhārata (Ādiparvan), and who was the snake used as rope around Mount Meru by the devas and asuras for churning the ocean.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 13, 2015

Heat Week

This week Harvard is sponsoring events dealing with climate change, and people are pressuring the university to divest from fossil fuels.  I could have joined the protesters, but they said you needed to go to a training session, and you could be arrested, so I wimped out.  Here's what it looked like this morning.

Outside Mass. Hall, where President Faust has her office.

They have their headquarters at the First Parish Church, which you can see in the distance.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday--Old French Fairy Tales

This week I'd like to tout this whole book, because all the illustrations are gorgeous!  I'm including some of the color plates here, but don't miss the black-and-white ones in the book.

by Sophie Segur
Illustrations by Virginia Frances Sterrett

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday--The Month of March

For the last Friday in March, I would like to feature the story The Month of March on page 42 of Italian Fairy Tales by Georgene Faulkner.  This is the first fairy tale I've read that features personified months; seasons, sure, but not months.

It also includes the very common theme of two people (in this case a rich brother and a poor brother) getting a completely different results from an encounter with the same supernatural being(s).

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday--Aino Folk-tales

The Ainu are an indigenous Japanese people.  This collection of tales aimed at academics hasn't got any illustrations, so I've added one from a Dover clip art collection.

Aino Folk-tales by Basil Hall Chamberlain

The story I would like to feature is The Man who was changed into a Fox on page 25.  Foxes appear frequently in Japanese folklore. They generally disguise themselves as women, or possess the souls of women,  so that makes this story an interesting exception.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel)

The Rifftrax version of  this film has amused me through a dozen viewings.  I just can't get tired of it.  First of all, it's a well-preserved black-and-white, so it looks like Film Noir.  (The stills I got off the web don't do it justice.)  You can easily see the fine texture of people's hair, of wood, of fabric.  In night scenes you get creepy shadows creeping over everything and, in the vicinity of Whitewood, MA, an abundance of fog.  (There is no Whitewood in MA.  Don't search for it.)

It starts out with a witch-burning. In general, New Englanders hanged their witches, but burning does make for more drama.  Lucifer answers her appeal, manifesting as darkness and thunder--which doesn't seem right.  After all, he's the light-bringer, and lightning is Yahweh's thing.

Patricia Jessel plays Elizabeth Selwyn, the witch who curses Whitewood and comes back from the dead to practice blood sacrifice.  She enunciates her lines very carefully.  Was this because of her stage acting or because she had to speak with an American accent?  The Rifftrax crew pays no attention to Jessel's enunciation, but they do make fun of Tom Naylor's shifting accent.

 Christopher Lee (behind Jessel) was the only big star.  He plays a college professor moonlighting as a witch.  In the tradition of the refined horror film, you don't actually see anything too gross or icky. 

You do get to see Satan-worshippers's robes catch on fire, which is pretty exciting.  Apparently the immortal witches can only be permanently killed by the shadow of a cross combined with the phrase spoken aloud: "I adjure thee, O creature of salt, by the living God!"  Of course, I Googled it and found the phrase in a description of Anglican ritual, specifically in the Blessing of the Water section.

I think the Rifftrax crew have gotten so much funnier since MST3K.  Their jokes aren't the obvious ones; they know how to surprise you. 

Another fan's reactions to the unriffed film:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday--Urashima

Japanese Fairy Tales  By Teresa Peirce Williston has lots of color illustrations.  I'd like to tout the story Urashima.  It's a Japanese version of Rip Van Winkle.

Not from the book