Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Statutory warning: Slightly self indulgent post ahead.

When I was about eight or nine, my parents got me the Children's Britannica encyclopaedia. I had already started my love affair with books and one of my favourite haunts at that point was the school library ( I was abroad at that time - so enormous school, grounds, libraries and the works) - sitting on the bean bag in the kids section and getting lost in some Enid Blyton or the other.

The encyclopaedia was quite intimidating early on - twenty glossy, crimson, hardbound books embossed with gold lettering and thus, were relegated to the highest shelf in the library where I could look at them but could avoid reading them. Then for some reason I decided I wanted to do a (self-motivated) project on France I clambered up on to the showcase using the lower shelves as foot holds and took out "P" to search for Paris and instead I found the other Paris (of Troy) thus starting off the other great love affair of my life- that of all things mythological.

Something about the whole Trojan War fired my imagination – a whole world full of gods and goddesses – colourful, flamboyant, manipulative, and magical – completely unlike the rather passive awareness of the Christianity which I had been exposed to at that time (did not have too much awareness to the Hindu pantheon beyond my mother's evening diya ritual).

And I devoured every single (extremely sanitized) article in sight in the encyclopaedia – the cross references, flipping through each page trying to find something I had missed. Looking at Roman mythology but slightly contemptuously (after all, it was but a copy of the Greeks, but with different names). I had favourites – Athena, Odysseus, and Artemis – and the ones I didn’t like – Aphrodite, Pan.

And eventually moving on to Egyptian (Isis and Osiris), Norse (Freya, Thor and others), Indian and my eternal obsession with Celtic and Arthurian legends – especially of the Avalon and the Lady of the lake. (Incidentally, my first choice for a blog name WAS Avalon – which was also my chat alter ego for many years. Unfortunately it was not available). The idea of a mystical, mythical island hidden to most, the tales of Morgan le Faye and the complicated relationship with her half brother Arthur, Nimue and Merlin - has just captivated me for so many years – much more than the legends of the knights.

What I find most fascinating about these is the fact that while they are so geographically distant – there are such recurring themes amongst all of them. The Gods of elements (which I suppose one could argue was inevitable – since the elements were what people were exposed to) but then you take the Gods like Pan, Loki and maybe a Narad - the mischief mongering theme? The ambivalent relationship between the king of Gods and his siblings and father? Athena and Saraswati- both goddesses of wisdom in a sense, would have an appropriately equal importance in their respective pantheons I think. The constant death-rebirth theme (Osiris, Persephone – and most interestingly the Jesus as well).

Maybe consciously or unconsciously all follow the Jungian archetypes – the hero’s journey, the patriarch, the maiden, the earth mother within the main and sub texts as well.

I suspect this mythological hangover from my childhood has also led to the curiosity about theology in young adulthood – whether it’s Hinduism or Christianity (never got any decent books on Islam though) and even medieval history. It’s a strange paradox therefore that I got terrible grades in more contemporary history which we had to study.

Some random trivia to end this post - most of the days of the week are named after these mythological Gods. Saturday, Sunday, Monday are easy but what about Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday?

P.S. Disclaimer: I have NOT researched this article. It has been written from whatever minuscule knowledge I have garnered over the years – and I have forgotten much more than I remember. This is not an academic treatise but rather, online musing about a topic which has enthralled me for many years. Any inaccuracies please excuse!
P.P.S. I might continue this post with Hindu mythology - some of the sub texts, symbology and rituals are very, VERY interesting.


Arunima said...

My husband will love you for this. :-)

He loves all this mythology stuffs. i like the name Freya.

Meira said...

I once had his fascination for anything to do with Egypt-the history, black magic, hieroglyphs, etc. Incidentally, that's how I met my husband (he was in Egypt for summers and agreed to send me a daily description :D)

What's In A Name!? said...

I absolutely love Hindu mythology - there's something absolutely fascinating about it.. I think everything we know today, existed then - and the epics talk abt them.. the 100 kauravas, the pandavas born in pots, pandu suffering from illness forbiding sexual intercourse, pushpak viman.. :D my interest in mythology was triggered off by my granma! :)

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Wiki says Tuesday,Wednesday etc are also based on gods.
Tangential question to you:

Why did our naming of days of the week be exactly like the Gregorian calendar? Most languages that I have checked seemed to be in sync with G calendar?
Some Knowledge transfer happened then?

Similar thing about naming of zodiac constellation of the Solar calendar and our Lunar months.

PS:I know, random comment :D

Meena said...

Lovely post! I am fascinated by mythology too, and like you I devoured all stories and references to mythology of various lands while in school and college. You are right, there is a common thread that runs through all of them, although they are separated geographically. The collective unconscious? I think Wednesday was named for Odin (Odin's Day- Norse god), Thursday for Thor and Friday for Freya. I am not too sure about Tuesday though.

manuscrypts said...

maybe the future editions will have Paris Hilton too..sigh.. to start of great love affairs :D
meanwhile Woden (odin), Thor, Freya... no idea about Tuesday...
if you're really into Indian mythology, this is interesting stuff - (download the chron zip file)

Susa said...

Hey that totally happened to me too. Mythology is the only thing I remember reading from the encyclopedia (apart from one article on the peregrine falcon), but I started with the Greeks :)

Epiphany said...

I love encyclopedias :) somehow wiki doesn't feel the same as the big bound copy of Britannica or for that matter the "tell me why" series...

Cynic in Wonderland said...

arunima - yus like freya too. and im glad to know there are more mythology enthusiasts around. not met too many actually.

meira - really? i think egyptology is pretty big in the west no? brings t o mind the famous scarab collectors of wodehouse.

whats in a name - and have you ever read about the symbols and the meanings of them? the bindi and the sindoor take on a whole new meaning!

nikhil - yus its a weird thing no. and if you actually see astrological charts of oriental and occidental streams - they LOOk similiar - quite remarkable if you think of it.

you are right about all three meena - tuesday is for tyr ( called tiw as well).

manu - im sure paris hilton is already there. and chances are she gets more hits than the othertwo. saddening no? ill check out the file. also if you can attend any workshop by devdutt patnaik. big mythologists. in fact he and my ex boss started a brand and mythology relation consultancy type of thing.

susa - i started with the greeks too.!

epiphany its like books - i can never graduate to online books. just like the smell of the actual ones too much

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Oh I remember the Encyclopaedia years :)

And Thursday is named after Thor- God of Thunder and Wednesday after Woden ( I dunno what God!)

buddy said...

indian mythology is also very interesting...waiting for ur next post!

Pinku said...

My 'accidental' tryst with Greek mythology happened thanks to my dad's dictionary which had a list of these names along with a brief explaination of what they represented...and yes for a long time I was in love with those ancient names....wishing i was named Athena or Penelope or some such :)

Funnily studying them endlessly during college actually cured me of the addiction...

(am an English lit. student)

Cynic in Wonderland said...

nandini - woden = odin norse king of gods.

buddy - yus it is. im hardly a gyani on it tho. just some random facts picked up from here and there.

pinku - exotica is always fascinating i reckon.

AmitL said...

Hi,Cyn-whew,that was quite a historical post..:)You made me take a trip down my own memory lane, remembering how I also used to be crazy(who says I'm not,still?)about books and reading.An encyclopaedia used to be a gem of a book..referred to for solving crosswords,even.
However,I didn't really go into the Greeks and Egyptian histories much,except for what was in the history books..but,it's still facinating..maybe I'll brush up when back in India.
BTW,do you also read up on topics like the origins of doing Pranam/namaste,saying prayers at temples,etc?I keep googling such topics.

Maddy said...

you know when you go back a few thousand years, you will notice an easier convergence between the cultures & religions..If people realized it, things would be so much easier today..The Greek gods & Hindu gods for example, the Jewish & Islamic...

Rada said...

You continue to amaze me, dear!

Is it too late to retrain oneself as an Anthropologist? I think not!

Go for it, girl!

??! said...

And what about all the South American mytho? And the Persians (Shah Nameh)? And the Dreamtime? Much fun to be had.

Tuesday = Tyr's (Tiwes) Day
Wednesday = Wodan's (Odin) Day
Thursday = Thor's
Friday = Frigga's (Freya's)

a million different people said...

Most of my knowledge of foreign mythology comes from obsessively playing Age of Empires, Age of Mythology and Caesar II, III and IV.

Hindu Mythology is so awesome that I've been fascinated since childhood. I love the Gita. Also, if you haven't read R K Narayan's "The Indian Epics Retold", you should. :)

Cynic in Wonderland said...

amitl - yus occasionally i wiki random stuff. my mind is full of trivia which is of absolute no relevance to anything.

maddy - yus, but the interesting question is HOW did this knowledge transfer happen.there is this interesting book we have charting out the progress of civilization through the ages - fascinating stuff of migration

rada - thats the nicest thing anyone has said to me all week. hell, all year actually. thank you verr muchly!

??! COmpletely missed south american - aiyo. and that shall be rectified verr soon !

million different people - hindu mythology and even the symbology is fascinating. there was this thing about Gauri and Kali - the two sides of goddess worship. Brilliant i tell you explains things which had always mystified me.

Michael said...

Hi. Just curious to see if you know this post is also at He's been accused of plagiarizing something else as well.