Tag Archives: mythology

Descent Into The Underworld

We all know i’m writing a Dieselpunk Opera so there’s no point being coy about it. We all know i won’t actually begin making music for some time (months) but in my spare time i work out the stories (although as i already have 2 out of 3 it’s going a bit faster then i expected) and ideas for the music. So ideas and tangents it leads me on are fair game for this blog.

The most interesting tangent i have run across required me to refresh myself on Inanna, a Sumerian goddess who descends into the underworld and which is a favorite myth of mine. It prefigures most other known myths and certainly all other underworld descent myths. The progression of the meme from the Sumerian Inanna to the Babylonian Ishtar,  the Greek Orpheus, the Norse Baldar, the Welsh Pwyll, the Hindu Sāvitrī, to up to andf including the Christian Jesus is fascinating. Mythological memes are beautiful to behold make their way through the viral legends of history.

Thus today, i’m going to touch upon this subject visually only and feature some great works of art depicting the various Greatest Descent Into The Underworld Hits of all time.

There wasn’t even painting yet when Inanna descended to the Underworld to either rescue a sister, brother or attend a funeral.

Ishtar IS Inanna, just changed slightly as Babylonian culture became dominant. the stories are almost identical.

Orpheus is of course the most famous, descending into the underworld to rescue his dead love Persephone.

Orpheus in the underworld, Jan Brueghel the Elder 1594

Later, the Romans reworked the Persephone story and had Zeus, at her mother Demeter’s request send Hermes to the Underworld and successfully rescue Persephone.

The Return of Persephone, Frederick Leighton

Heracles (Hercules) also went to the Underworld, but unlike almost everybody else who did it to rescue a lost loved one, he did it just to kick the giant dog gaurdian’s ass, prove he was a bad ass and cross it off his bucket list  12th labor as part of his sentence for being driven mad by Hera and killing his wife and children.

The Twelve Labors of Heracles, The Capture of Cerberus, Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

Hermod (Hermóðr) went to the Underworld to bargain for the return of Baldur, who was killed by Loki and whose death would begin the chain leading to Ragnorak, the last battle of the gods.

Hermod pays respects to Hela

Pwyll became surrogate Lord of Anwyn for a year and a day. Now technically Anwyn is OTHERwordly as opposed to UNDERworldly, but it is, or at least became synonymous with a land of the dead. While this became even more pronounced when Christianity showed up, Anwyn as an otherworldly place of souls was already well in place so it counts.

A fantastic painting of an Underworld rescue by Jeff Pellas, of all things my old college roomate during the year and a half i actually went to college:

“Untitled” (Intaglio) by Jeff Pellas

And of course, we would be criminally amiss not to include history’s current most popular visit to the Underworld:

The Descent into Hell, Jacopo Tintoretto


Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Legendary Sunken City of Kitezh

Across the world there are many tales of towns or cities hidden by a lake, an ocean or watery mists. The Welsh have Tyno Helig, we all know Atlantis, Avalon, even the Scottish Brigadoon…. come to think of it a lot of these come from the British Isles, which makes sense being island nations. In any case today we look at a Russian take on the lost and sunken city meme: Kitezh.

The legend states that Kitezh lay on the shores of Lake Svetloyar in central Russia. It was technically the second town of Kitezh, the bigger one called Bolshoy Kitezh or Big Kitezh. The first was its smaller and less glorious sister town Maly Kitezh or Little Kitezh. The town was beautiful, the Lake magical, etc etc.

Then came the Mongols.

The Tartars specifically. The Tartars were an ethnic subdivision of the Mongols, a Turkish people living in the Eurasian Steppes who were swallowed up by Ghengis Khan and integrated into the great Mongol Horde which ravaged Asia, the Middle East and Central Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.

So one day Batu Khan was giving the Russian lands a good buggering when he heard about the beauty of Kitezh and decided… you know.. to see it and pillage it. He found Little Kitezh and after taking it and desperately trying to get someone to tell him how to get to the bigger Kitezh he was finally was told by a cowardly drunkard of a secret path to Lake Svetloyar.

The Mongol hordes raced to Kitezh. When they arrived they found the beautiful town didn’t possess a single fortification, nor were the townsfolk preparing to defend it in any way. They were simply praying fervently.

The Tartars looked at each other, shrugged and proceeded to enter Kitezh when suddenly water from the Lake began spouting in great gusts from beneath the town. As they retreated and watched, the Lake rose and swallowed Kitezh. As the city submerged the last thing seen was the cross at the top of the Church standing above the water until finally, it too disappeared beneath the Lake.

However, Kitezh is still there and its people still alive. The town and people live at the bottom of the Lake, but only the true of heart and pious can find it or see the lights and hear the singing and processions that emanate from sunken, holy Kitezh. In perfectly calm weather you may even be able to hear the beautiful sounds of bells ringing from beneath the water where Kitezh lives ever on.

In some versions Kitezh sinks before the Tartars arrive and they find just an empty lake, but they hear the magnificent sound of bells and music from under the lake and are driven mad by the incomprehensible beauty.

So that’s nice, right? Lovely legend, that.


Legends of a lost or sunken city around Lake Svetloyar go back to medieval times. However it wasn’t until the 1700s that the legend of Kitezh as we know it first appeared in print in a book called the Kitezh Chronicle. The book is anonymous but it was written by a member of the Old Believers.

The Old Believers are a sect of Russian Orthodox Christianty that are actually still around today. In the mid 1600s the Russian Orthodox Church enacted a series of reforms and changes to liturgy in order to more closely align it to the original Greek Orthodox texts and rituals. The Old Believers disagreed with these changes, split with the Church and declared the arrival of the Antichrist. Many were persecuted, tortured and executed by the Church/State apparatus which was Tsarist Russia at the time, but the sect still managed to keep going. Finally at the beginning of the 20th century, 1905, the persecutions ended, with Tsar Nicholas granting them religious freedom. This of course lasted all of 12 years as Communism arrive in 1917 and eventually religion became illegal and devout Orthodox of all types were systematically killed and persecuted into declared unbelief.

Old Believers kickin’ it old school style

In the story of Kitezh are numerous religious themes:the hidden glory of Gd’s Kingdom; the invisible pious; the terrible wonder of Gd for the unbelievers, who cannot take the beautiful and unearthly sounds of Kitezh’s bells and music emanating from the lake; the journey of the spiritual pilgrim to an unseen and unknown land of glory.

The legend of Kitezh was made into an opera by Russian musical Master Rimsky-Korsakov and is considered by many, espcially within Russia, to be his finest opera. You may if you wish watch an entire production of it right here:

The last detail of interest here is that in 2011 a team of archaeologists found traces of an ancient settlement on the hillside next to the Lake, a hillside prone to landslides where it is indeed within reason to hypothesize that an ancient village may have indeed been swallowed at the spot giving rise to a legend that would one day become Kitezh.


Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Phooka

Phookas (or Puca, Puka, or Pooka) are one of the nastiest and feared of the Fae. It’s a shape shifting trickster, with a wild and potentially malevolent sense of humor who likes toying with humans but who does not possess human empathy or emotions as we would understand them.

He is a descendant of Pan, and not in a story way, but literally has descended from Pan, the wild, baccanalian half Goat creature. Pan eventually became Puck, who was immortalized in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Puck of course became Phooka. Indeed Puck IS a Phooka and if you think about Puck you basically have the creature: a small, goblin-like creature who is a practical joker whose jokes can range from mildly annoying to rather deadly.

Another well known wider cultural reference to the Phooka is of course the famous (and wonderful) movie Harvey, with Jimmy Stewart.

In the movie, Harvey is rather benign, and indeed one aspect of the Phooka is that it sometimes can take a liking to a person (or child) and become their invisible friend, visible only to them. However, the Phooka is also much more dangerous.

They have shaggy black hair and yellow eyes, and while they are humanoid, they usually appear as an animal. Of of their favorite manifestations is as a horse. They will try to entice humans to ride them, at which point they will take them on the ride of their lives, fast, fierce and wild, depositing them at the in a ditch or lake at the end. Sometimes the Phooka will simply sneak up on a person, stick their head between their legs, and before they know it, the unsuspecting human is on a wild ride which will not stop until the lake.

Other animals fear it, and one sign that a Phooka is about is that the hens will cease giving eggs and the cows cease milk. If this happens, be careful, the Phooka is about. Another sign is a large, black haired creature, unusually large and wild looking, or non native to the area being seen about.

If sleeping indoors, as opposed to a hollow tree, they will often sleep under the bed. If you are convinced there is constantly something under your bed at night, it is quite possible a Phooka has taken up sleeping quarters there. They are very vengeful when angered and will set about to systematically ruin your life if you manage to piss them off. If less angry, or even just bored, they may just stay with you for a time, taking up residence in your closet or under your bed and endlessly bother you.

They should never be allowed to taste human blood. Many don’t set out to taste blood, but if they should happen to do so, they may become obsessed with the taste, and systematically hunt down the person who’s blood it is and consume them.

With all that said, they are not normally exceptionally dangerous. They’re unpredictable, but can be harmless enough. In some places a small section of the crop is left for them. Whatever part of the harvest was not collected during the main harvesting days, you do not go back for. This is now Faery crop, the Puca’s share.

After the harvest, November 1st is Phooka Day, and he can be counted on to behave himself on this day. Indeed, on November 1st, sometimes a great black steed would emerge from a hill in Leinster and speak to the people there, giving them prophecies for the next year. The people would then leave gifts and presents at the hill.

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Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Artists, beware. The Leanan-Sidhe is one amazing hot Faerie lover who loves artsy types. Seriously, artsy guys make her cream herself. She will inspire you to create the best works of your lives and she wants only to love you boys long time.

Yes, i know. It seems like a good idea at the time. But trust me, don't tap that.

Alas, she cannot love you long time. Because she will burn your wimpy little ass out in no time. If she doesn’t burn you out, then you’ll become so lovesick with longing you’ll basically drink or drug your own sorry self to death. Not to mention the moping. For the love of Pete, does the world really need another mopey artist?

Artists die young. We all know that. But why? Folks, the Gaelic have known why for millenium. Fucking faeries, that’s why. Specifically the Faerie Mistress, or Leanan Sidhe (lanawn shee).

She’s like Nancy (of Sid and Nancy) Courtney Love and Yoko Ono on steroids. And hotter. WAY hotter. She is the most awesome thing you’ll ever know, and you will never survive it.

Some say she’s like a vampire, but that’s not true. She doesn’t want to kill you, you’re just too weak to handle her. She a fucking FAERIE for fuck’s sake. You think falling for Tinkerbell is all cutesiness, but Tinkerbell will burn through you like a party of 7 year olds let loose on the birthday cake. She really doesn’t want you be such a pussy, she wants you to stay with her, but you suck. So now she’s sad and lonely again and has to find another artsy dude to seduce.

The whole “Leana-Sidhe are bloodsuck vampire bitches” was propagated by Yeats, and admittedly, he did had a justifiable bone to pick with her/them. His buddies died young because they fell for her and couldn’t handle her. No one can. His buddy Keats, dead at 25. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley dead one month shy of his 20th birthday. I mean damn. That’s cold.

Yeats: “for theLianhaun shee lives upon the vitals of its chosen, and they waste and die. She is of the dreadful solitary fairies. To her have belonged the greatest of the Irish poets, from Oisin down to the last century.”

Well, let’s be honest, poetic types and musicians die young. Shit, even in these modern times we all know the 29 rule. If you’re a musician, fucking COOL it during year 29. Seriously, do drugs, party, go crazy at 28 and 30, but for your 29th year, man, go fucking straight edge vegan. If you can make it through 29, you’ll be okay.

Writers: you’re not so lucky, most of you die in your 30s. She likes her writers a little older.

The Leanan-Sidhe like em all, but the young ones are the most susceptible. Yeats made it to 73 because he never let the bitch in the door. Life tip: You got a potential Faerie problem, hang some mother fucking iron all over the place. Faeries HATE iron. It hurts the shit out of them. (One can rumintae about the ancient Celts coming up with this mythology as they used their iron age technology to pound the shit out non iron weapon wielding  enemies, like the Tuatha Dé Danann). When the Leanan-Sidhe tried to seduce Yeats he put his dick in an iron condom and that was that. She never bothered him again.

Iron, see? Iron fucks them up.

A writer gets all drepressed and kills himself or drinks himself to death? Fuckng Leanan-Sidhe. Seriously, i was going to hunt that bitch down after David Foster Wallce killed himself, because don’t think i don’t know what was going on. Unfortunately, i’m a musician and i’ve caught her staring at me through the window more than once. No, i can’t do it. I’d be her bitch before she even got finished blowing in my ear.

A banker needs to kill her. Some wall street guy.

Anyway, you’ve been warned. Rehab does not work, because drugs are not the problem. They’re a SYMPTOM. Duh. A symptom… of FUCKING FAERIES. Literally.


Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Faeries: The Sidhe

I’ve always had a big interest in the Sidhe legends, long, long before i ever discovered i was Irish (long story, let’s not worry about it now) and I’ve incorporated the Sidhe into several works. While they don’t really come into play in the Steampunk Opera, they do get a shout out.

This subculture song that i’m working on, one which depicts a subculture during my third generation which has  appropriated Voodoo much like 60s british youth appropriated the blues, depicts the youth of New Albion getting together for parties that are more like Voudon ceremonies. These kids are not african, nor african descended, and since they’re pulling a cultural appropriation, it would make sense that they are not trying to call up african spirits, but their own ancestral spirits… the Sidhe.

The Celts believed in Faeries and  before the late 19th and 20th centuries pussified them into pretty little tinkerbell things, they were actually creepy as hell. Pronounced Shee, they incorporate a pantheon of creatures. The lordly, more human like creatures and the more monsterous, malevolent beings like the Leprechaun, the Phooka, the Merrow and the Banshee (bean-sidhe, get it?).

The lordly race, the Sidhe proper, live underground in enchanted mounds and in the Otherworld. In the stories, encountering them can be potentially hazardous, or quite fun. They are charming, but quick to anger if insulted or disgusted. They love beautiful things and will steal human babies, taking them to forever reside in their underground otherworlds, putting fatally flawed replacements in their place.

As lovely as it might seem to run off and play with the Faeries, it is actually extremely dangerous. Basically, you risk becoming an acid casualty. You know, one of the guys that has done way too much LSD and is just… not really there. Spaced the fuck out. If you’re a child, this is less likely to happen but more likely they will simply take you and let your parents die of a broken heart. Sometimes people can visit them and come back all right or even with a gift. Other times they come back deformed, messed up in the head, or kill themselves in order to return.

The Sidhe are often said to derive from the ancient worship of the dead, and originally were the ancestors of the Celts, who over time grew into numerous legends and mythologies. This works best for my purposes.

As far as more fanciful and historical legend goes, the Sidhe are said to be a race called the Tuatha Dé Danann, People of the Goddess Danu.  In the early Irish writings ‘The Book of the Dun Cow’ and the ‘Book of Leinster’ they are described as a race that is “gods and not gods”, pointing to the fact that they are ‘something in between’.

They were the 5th people to come to ireland, and they conquered the island from the far more barbaric Fir Bolg. Numerous stories of the battles and various kings and killings and betrayals abound, but eventually the Tuatha De Dunann ruled all of Ireland un til the coming of the Sons of Mil, the Milesians, who became the Celts. They eventually conquered the Sidhe and either drove them underground, or according to some legends, in dividing up Ireland with them after the wars, tricked them. They divided Ireland in half, but the Milesians got all the area above ground, and the Tuatha Dé Danann all the area underground.

The Sidhe were said to have come from four mythical cities: Falias, Gorias, Finias, and Murias. It was their that they learned all of their magic and skills from the druids, and were given four great treasures or talismans that showed these skills. The first treasure was the Stone of Fal, which would scream whenever a true king of Ireland would place his foot on it. The next was the Magic Sword of Nuada, a weapon that only inflicted mortal blows when drawn. The third was the Sling-shot of the Sun God Lugh, that never missed its target. The last was the Cauldron of Dagda from which a constant supply of food came forth.

Nowadays there are numerous books which incorporate Sidhe mythology. However, one of the best, in terms of pure awesomeness as fantastical fiction is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Seriously, this is one of the most enjoyable fantasy books of the past decade and does the faery mythos proud.

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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


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