Quotes from Wild Souls: Freedom and Flourishing by Emma Marris

In Norse mythology, there is a story of a supernatural wolf called Fenrir. He is the god Loki’s son and, at first, he lives with the gods. But he becomes worryingly large and powerful and they decide to bind him. After he breaks free from a series of increasingly robust physical chains, the gods control him by binding him with Gleipnir, a magic fetter of paradoxes: the breath of a fish, the beard of a woman, the sound of a cat walking. These dreamlike, impossible ideas seem analogous to me to the intangible laws, rules, and political boundaries that determine where wolves exist today. I’ve always wondered why the gods didn’t just kill the threatening Fenrir, why they preferred a bound wolf to a dead wolf. Today, using GPS collars and tranquilizer darts and ‘wolf plans’ as our fetter, we seem to have made the same choice.

I wanted to learn more about the snake and, in particular, about its relationship with humans. I found a paper by two Dutch scholars, Rob Lenders and Ingo Janssen, which argued that the reason Natrix natrix is so common in Europe is that snakes of this species like to lay their eggs in warm cow pies and other livestock manure. They thus followed Neolithic humans and their domesticated animals up the continent, into colder climes than any other egg-laying snake, and became culturally associated with livestock, even thought of as their protectors. They were ‘considered to be chthonic deities’ – gods of the underworld ‘not to be harmed,’ the researchers wrote. Every spring, they emerged from their underground hibernacula before the snow had melted and were thus seen as ‘heralds of spring.’ Their unblinking eyes, the researchers wrote, ‘made them to our forebears all-seeing creatures and therefore very wise.’ The snakes also symbolized death and, as they shed their skins, rebirth. In the Baltic countries, grass snakes were sometimes considered to be the spirits of dead ancestors, ‘taking care of their descendants by protecting valuable cattle and by stimulating fertility.’ And Lithuanians and Latvians did indeed let grass snakes live in their houses, near the hearth, to keep warm, and sometimes fed them. Their worship goes back to Indo-European times.

The researchers speculate that the ring around the neck of the grass snake, which goes almost, but not quite, all the way around, may have inspired the common European Iron Age accessory known as the torc (or torque), a metal neck ring with a gap in the front. They point to the fact that many torcs were decorated with snake motifs, and they mention the Gundestrup cauldron – a huge silver bowl from sometimes between 150-1 BCE found in a Danish peat bog. It is covered with figures and scenes wrought in silver, including the antlered god Cernunnos. He wears a torc and holds another in his right hand. In his left, he holds a grass snake. Around him are animals: deer, something canine, something feline, and a small person riding on the back of a dolphin.

I gazed at pictures of the cauldron, feeling like I was looking at scenes from a European dreamtime, when animal people and human people spoke to one another, when animal gods and animals themselves were worshiped, when humans knew themselves to be simply one kind of animal among many. A pre-Christian world before the human/nature duality.

Christianization more or less disrupted the worship of grass snakes, and they became despised – like all snakes – as symbols of the evil serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. But in some corners of Europe, respect for this species persists. A Romanian naturalists writes that in Eastern Romania, ‘No one kills this snake because it is considered as a protector of the house, a help against mice and insects.’ In the Netherlands, volunteers now construct ‘broeihopen’ for their local Natrix species to nest in: piles of loose compost that hold the heat to keep the eggs warm. We did not tame these animals and we do not routinely keep them captive, and yet our lives have been entangled with theirs for thousands of years.


#BLAThoughtOfTheDay: Thor: Ragnarok is anything but Norse

While this is the first Thor movie I’ve actually felt compelled to see, I think my intrigue has more to do with the syncretic mix of non-Norse imagery in its advertisements:

The above poster looks a lot like iconography for the Hindu Pantheon, complete with lots of arms and the hyper use of color:

And then we see a Pegasi, from Greek myth, in the trailer:

Granted, Valkyries did fly through the air, arguably on horseback. It’s just not a decidedly Norse creature when given feathered wings…

And at one point Thor is forced to fight Hulk, Roman gladiator-style:

So, my last thought is:

Other than just the Norse gods themselves, where’s the Nordic flair? 


Could Neil Gaiman be wrong? Exploring the ‘gateway books’ theory:

‘So why is it that I’ve been reluctant to hand over to my young Riordan aficionado the review copy I received of the author’s other recent publication, “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods”? Lavishly illustrated on heavy, glossy paper, this is Riordan’s answer to the D’Aulaires’ celebrated volume. It is the same size as that familiar book, with its cover even drawing from the same color palette of yellows and blues. Inside, it contains the old stories, as retold in the voice of Percy Jackson himself: “A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, ‘Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again. ’ ”

Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, European immigrants to the United States who co-authored many books after their marriage in 1925, retold the myths in a heightened, poetic language: “In olden times, when men still worshiped ugly idols, there lived in the land of Greece a folk of shepherds and herdsmen who cherished light and beauty,” their book begins. Riordan’s book strikes a very different tone. It is inscribed with obsolescence (Craigslist, iPhones, and the Powerball lottery are invoked) and delivered in the kind of jaded teen argot that proves irresistibly cool to kids from grade school up: “At first, Kronos wasn’t so bad. He had to work his way up to being a complete slime bucket.” While the D’Aulaires wrote that “Persephone grew up on Olympus and her gay laughter rang through the brilliant halls,” Percy’s introduction to the story of Demeter’s daughter reads, “I have to be honest. I never understood what made Persephone such a big deal. I mean, for a girl who almost destroyed the universe, she seems kind of meh.” The former book, which was published fifty-two years ago, remains mostly lucid, even if in places it is stilted and dated. But I suspect it would be a very discerning elementary or middle-school student—or a willfully perverse one—who would chose the old version over the Percy Jackson retelling. Put the books side by side, and the D’Aulaires look more like the Dull’Aires, as Percy and his demigod pals might put it. (Wow—this affect is contagious.)

Gaiman’s view that any book that is avidly embraced can serve as a gateway to an enduring love of reading is surely true: my own earliest literary love affair was with Enid Blyton, that mid-century spinner of mysteries and boarding-school stories, who is among the authors Gaiman lists as having been deemed bad for children. But the metaphor of the gateway should prompt caution, too, since one can go through a gate in two directions. What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same? There’s a myth that could serve as an illustration here. I’m sure my son can remind me which one.’  – Rebecca Mead. Read the rest here. 

We do wonder how many American Gods and Percy Jackson fans have actually read the classical myth-lit such books pay homage to.

We also wonder where Percy Jackson got the idea to remain anonymous (cough, cough).


Rebecca Mead has a new book out we would really like to read.

Gabbler Recommends: Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World MythologyZeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology by Cory O’Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most hilarious things I have ever read.

View all my reviews


Fact: Cory O’Brien is B.L.A.’s spirit animal. I’m sure of it.

O’Brien is arguably helpful to the ancient myths, giving modern context to things I hadn’t paid attention to before…maybe because my mind is not as fundamentally dirty as his (where he actually “gets” myth, I tend to romanticize it — but such is the curse of a lit major).

Gabbler Recommends: Travel Light, by Naomi Mitchison

I am going to start this new thing called “GABBLER RECOMMENDS” (also searchable as a tag “category” — see the side bar). It will showcase items that both BLA and I enjoyed. Feel free to recommend interesting books/novelties/artifacts to us in the comments below. There’s probably a lot we haven’t tried.

***CORRECTION*** BLA tells me that s/he has tried everything and therefore should make it clear that it’s only ME who needs help in my cultural development. Perhaps BLA is right. After all, I backed THE AUTOMATION. Ahem.

But to the post!

Gabbler recommends… Travel Light.

Why? Because this novel has nice dragons in it. Not all need to be slain. This novel weaves together various myths and magical creatures into one beautiful fairytale-like story. It was a very quick read (very short), and worth your time.