And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
(Genesis 1, 2)



stars, gods and waters...


  Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn



also called Alpha Canis Majoris, or Dog Star brightest star in the night sky, with apparent visual magnitude -1.5. It is a binary star in the constellation Canis Major. The bright component of the binary is a blue-white star 23 times as luminous as the Sun and somewhat larger and considerably hotter than the Sun. Its distance from the solar system is about 8.6 light-years, only twice the distance of the nearest known star beyond the Sun. Its name probably comes from a Greek word meaning sparkling, or scorching.

Sirius was known as Sothis to the ancient Egyptians, who were aware that it made its first heliacal rising (i.e., rose just before sunrise) of the year at about the time the annual floods were beginning in the Nile River delta. They long believed that Sothis caused the Nile floods; and they discovered that the heliacal rising of the star occurred at intervals of 365.25 days rather than the 365 days of their calendar year, a correction in the length of the year that was later incorporated in the Julian calendar. Among the ancient Romans, the hottest part of the year was associated with the heliacal rising of the Dog Star, a connection that survives in the expression dog days.

Sirius is a binary star was first reported by the German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel in 1844. He had observed that the bright star was pursuing a slightly wavy course among its neighbours in the sky and concluded that it had a companion star, with which it revolved in a period of about 50 years. The companion was first seen in 1862 by Alvan Clark, an American astronomer and telescope maker.

Sirius and its companion revolve together in orbits of considerable eccentricity and with average separation of the stars of about 20 times the Earth's distance from the Sun. Despite the glare of the bright star, the seventh-magnitude companion is readily seen with a large telescope. This companion star, known as Sirius B, is about as massive as the Sun, though much more condensed, and was the first white dwarf star to be discovered.


red dwarf:

Because of their instrinsically low luminosities, white dwarf stars can be observed only within a few hundred parsecs (1 parsec = 3.26 light-years) from the Earth. They are occasionally found in binary systems, as is the case for the white dwarf companion to the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius (q.v.). White dwarf stars also play an essential role in the outbursts of novae and of other cataclysmic variable stars.



one of the eight large, regular satellites of Saturn. Essentially composed of pure water ice, Tethys has a diameter of 1,060 km (657 miles). It orbits Saturn at a distance of 294,660 km (182,689 miles) and is involved in an orbital resonance with Mimas such that it completes precisely one orbit for every two of Mimas' orbits. Tethys possesses two noteworthy features. The first of these is a long crack extending along three-quarters of the satellite's circumference and forming 5 to 10 percent of its surface. It is theorized that the crack was produced by freezing and expansion of the water that composes the satellite's interior. The second notable feature is a crater that measures 400 km (250 miles) in diameter and has a large central peak.


The constellations and other sky divisions:

The decans

Two other astronomical reference systems developed independently in early antiquity, the lunar mansions and the Egyptian decans. The decans are 36 star configurations circling the sky somewhat to the south of the ecliptic. They make their appearance in drawings and texts inside coffin lids of the 10th dynasty (around 2100 BC) and are shown on the tomb ceilings of Seti I (1318-04 BC) and of some of the Rameses in Thebes. The decans appear to have provided the basis for the division of the day into 24 hours.

Besides representing star configurations as decans, the Egyptians marked out about 25 constellations, such as crocodile, hippopotamus, lion, and a falcon-headed god. Their constellations can be divided into northern and southern groups, but the various representations are so discordant that only three constellations have been identified with certainty: Orion (depicted as Osiris), Sirius (a recumbent cow), and Ursa Major (foreleg or front part of a bull). The most famous Egyptian star map is a 1st-century-BC stone chart found in the temple at Dandarah and now in the Louvre. The Zodiac of Dandarah illustrates the Egyptian decans and constellations, but since it incorporates the Babylonian zodiac as well, many stars must be doubly represented, and the stone can hardly be considered an accurate mapping of the heavens.



ethnic group of the central plateau region of Mali that spreads across the border into Burkina Faso. There is some doubt as to the correct classification of the many dialects of the Dogon language; the language has been placed in the Mande, Gur, and other branches of the Niger-Congo language family, but its relationship to other languages of the family, if any, is uncertain. The Dogon number about 600,000, and the majority of them live in the rocky hills, mountains, and plateaus of the Bandiagara Escarpment. They are mainly an agricultural people; their few craftsmen, largely metalworkers and leatherworkers, form distinct castes. They have no centralized system of government but live in villages composed of patri-lineages and extended families whose head is the senior male descendant of the common ancestor. Polygyny is practiced but reportedly has a low incidence.

Each large district has a hogon, or spiritual leader, and there is a supreme hogon for the whole country. In his dress and behaviour the hogon symbolizes the Dogon myth of creation, to which the Dogon relate much of their social organization and culture. Their metaphysical system-which categorizes physical objects, personifies good and evil, and defines the spiritual principles of the Dogon personality-is more abstract than that of most other African peoples. Dogon religious life is heightened every 60 years by a ceremony called the sigui, which occurs when the star Sirius appears between two mountain peaks. Before the ceremony, young men go into seclusion for three months, during which they talk in a secret language. The general ceremony rests on the belief that some 3,000 years ago amphibious beings from Sirius visited the Dogon.


The Egyptian calendar:

The ancient Egyptians originally employed a calendar based upon the Moon, and, like many peoples throughout the world, they regulated their lunar calendar by means of the guidance of a sidereal calendar. They used the seasonal appearance of the star Sirius (Sothis); this corresponded closely to the true solar year, being only 12 minutes shorter. Certain difficulties arose, however, because of the inherent incompatibility of lunar and solar years. To solve this problem the Egyptians invented a schematized civil year of 365 days divided into three seasons, each of which consisted of four months of 30 days each. To complete the year, five intercalary days were added at its end, so that the 12 months were equal to 360 days plus five extra days. This civil calendar was derived from the lunar calendar (using months) and the agricultural, or Nile, fluctuations (using seasons); it was, however, no longer directly connected to either and thus was not controlled by them. The civil calendar served government and administration, while the lunar calendar continued to regulate religious affairs and everyday life.

In time, the discrepancy between the civil calendar and the older lunar structure became obvious. Because the lunar calendar was controlled by the rising of Sirius, its months would correspond to the same season each year, while the civil calendar would move through the seasons because the civil year was about one-fourth day shorter than the solar year. Hence, every four years it would fall behind the solar year by one day, and after 1,460 years it would again agree with the luni solar calendar. Such a period of time is called a Sothic cycle.

The Egyptians did not date by eras longer than the reign of a single king, so a historical framework must be created from totals of reign lengths, which are then related to astronomical data that may allow whole periods to be fixed precisely. This is done through references to astronomical events and correlations with the three calendars in use in Egyptian antiquity. All dating was by a civil calendar, derived from the lunar calendar, which was introduced in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. The civil year had 365 days and started in principle when Sirius, or the Dog Star-also known as Sothis (Ancient Egyptian: II Sopdet)-became visible above the horizon after a period of absence, which at that time occurred some weeks before the Nile began to rise for the inundation. Every four years the civil year advanced one day in relation to the Julian year (with 365 1/4 days), and after a cycle of about 1,460 years it would again agree with the luni solar calendar. Religious ceremonies were organized according to two lunar calendars that had months of 29 or 30 days, with extra, intercalary months every three years or so.

Four mentions of the rising of Sirius (generally known as Sothic dates) are preserved in texts from the 3rd to the 1st millennia, but by themselves these references cannot yield an absolute chronology. Such a chronology can be computed from larger numbers of lunar dates and cross-checked from solutions for the observations of Sirius. Various chronologies are in use, however, differing by up to 40 years for the 2nd millennium BC and by more than a century for the beginning of the 1st dynasty. The chronologies offered in most publications up to 1985 have been disproved for the Middle and New kingdoms by a restudy of the evidence for the Sothic and especially the lunar dates. For the 1st millennium, dates in the Third Intermediate Period are approximate; a supposed fixed year of 945 BC, based on links with the Old Testament, turns out to be variable by a number of years. Late Period dates (664-332 BC) are almost completely fixed. Before the 12th dynasty, plausible dates for the 11th can be computed backward, but for earlier times dates are approximate. A total of 955 years for the 1st through the 8th dynasty in the Turin Canon has been used to assign a date of about 3100 BC for the beginning of the 1st dynasty, but this requires excessive average reign lengths, and an estimate of 2925 BC is preferable. Radiocarbon and other scientific dating of samples from Egyptian sites have not improved on, or convincingly contested, computed dates. Recent work on radiocarbon dates from Egypt does, however, yield results encouragingly close to dates computed in the manner described above.

The fact that neither months nor years occupied a whole number of days was recognized quite early in all the great civilizations. Some observers also realized that the difference between calendar dates and the celestial phenomena due to occur on them would first increase and then diminish until the two were once more in coincidence. The succession of differences and coincidences would be cyclic, recurring time and again as the years passed. An early recognition of this phenomenon was the Egyptian Sothic cycle, based on the star Sirius (called Sothis by the ancient Egyptians). The error with respect to the 365-day year and the heliacal risings of Sirius amounted to one day every four tropical years, or one whole Egyptian calendar year every 1,460 tropical years (4 × 365), which was equivalent to 1,461 Egyptian calendar years. After this period the heliacal rising and setting of Sothis would again coincide with the calendar dates (see the section below The Egyptian calendar).


Dog days:

periods of exceptionally hot and humid weather that often occur in July, August, and early September in the northern temperate latitudes. The name originated with the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians; they believed that Sirius, the dog star, which rises simultaneously with the Sun during this time of the year, added its heat to the Sun's and thereby caused the hot weather. Their belief that dogs were subject to spells of madness at this time also may have contributed to the name. Because people tended to become listless during the dog days, Sirius was held to have a detrimental effect on human activities.



Egyptian Aset, or Eset, one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt. Her name is the Greek form of an ancient Egyptian word that is perhaps associated with a word for throne.

Little is known of Isis' early cult. In the Pyramid Texts (c. 2350c. 2100 BC), she is the mourner for her murdered husband, the god Osiris. In her role as the wife of Osiris, she discovered and reunited the pieces of her dead husband's body, was the chief mourner at his funeral, and through her magical power brought him back to life.

Isis hid her son, Horus, from Seth, the murderer of Osiris, until Horus was fully grown and could avenge his father. She defended the child against many attacks from snakes and scorpions. But because Isis was also Seth's sister, she wavered during the eventual battle between Horus and Seth, and in one episode Isis pitied Seth and was beheaded by Horus during their struggle. Despite her variable temperament, she and Horus were regarded by the Egyptians as the perfect mother and son. The shelter she afforded her child gave her the character of a goddess of protection. But her chief aspect was that of a great magician, whose power transcended that of all other deities. Several narratives tell of her magical prowess, with which she could even outwit the creator god Atum. She was invoked on behalf of the sick, and, with the goddesses Nephthys, Neith, and Selket, she protected the dead. She became associated with various other goddesses who had similar functions, and thus her nature became increasingly diverse. In particular, the goddess Hathor and Isis became similar in many respects. In the astral interpretation of the gods, Isis was equated with the dog star Sothis (Sirius).

Isis was represented as a woman with the hieroglyphic sign of the throne on her head, either sitting on a throne, alone or holding the child Horus, or kneeling before a coffin. Occasionally she was shown with a cow's head. As mourner, she was a principal deity in all rites connected with the dead; as magician, she cured the sick and brought the dead to life; and, as mother, she was herself a life-giver.

The cult of Isis spread throughout Egypt. In AkhmYm she received special attention as the mother of the fertility god Min. She had important temples throughout Egypt and Nubia. By Greco-Roman times she was dominant among Egyptian goddesses, and she received acclaim from Egyptians and Greeks for her many names and aspects. Several temples were dedicated to her in Alexandria, where she became the patroness of seafarers. From Alexandria her cult was brought to all the shores of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Rome. In Hellenistic times the mysteries of Isis and Osiris developed; these were comparable to other Greek mystery cults.



Nu, oldest of the ancient Egyptian gods and father of Re, the sun god. Nun's name means "water," and he represented the primeval waters of chaos out of which Re-Atum began creation. Nun's qualities were boundlessness, darkness, and the turbulence of stormy waters; these qualities were personified separately by pairs of deities; Nun, his female counterpart Naunet, and three further pairs together formed the Ogdoad (group of eight gods) of Hermopolis. Various Egyptian creation myths retain the image of the emergence of a primeval hillock formed of mud churned from the chaotic waters of Nun. Since it was believed that the primeval ocean continued to surround the ordered cosmos, the creation myth was reenacted each day as the sun god rose from the waters of chaos. Nun was also thought to continue to exist as subsoil water beneath the earth and as the source of the annual flooding of the Nile River.


Lahmu & Lahamu:

in Mesopotamian mythology, twin deities, the first gods to be born from the chaos that was created by the merging of Apsu (the watery deep beneath the earth) and Tiamat (the personification of the salt waters); this is described in the Babylonian mythological text Enuma elish (c. 12th century BC).


The Dionysiac reliefs are numerous. They show symbols of the religion, such as the shepherd's staff, the winnow (an ancient device for separating chaff from grain), and the phallus; they depict the gay life of satyrs and maenads, shepherds and shepherdesses; and they represent the golden age of the gods with tame and wild animals enjoying a peace that the god had instituted. A great silver dish dating from about the 4th century AD and found at Mildenhall, England, shows the swift and elegant dance of the maenads. Dionysiac sarcophagi represented Bacchic revels and the pastime of the Erotes and Psyches in afterlife. Many reliefs of the Isis Mysteries also survive. They display the mystical cista (a receptacle for carrying sacred objects) with the snake of Horus, the priest carrying holy water in a procession, female attendants with a ladle, and a man in a dog's mask, who represents Anubis (the guardian god). Other Isiac reliefs show Isis riding on a dog, symbolic of her position as goddess of Sirius (the Dog Star).



Chaldean priest of Bel in Babylon who wrote a work in three books (in Greek) on the history and culture of Babylonia; it was widely used by later Greek compilers, whose versions in turn were quoted by religious historians such as Eusebius and Josephus. Thus Berosus, though his work survives only in fragmentary citations, is remembered for his passing on knowledge of the origins of Babylon to the ancient Greeks.

In his first book Berosus described the land of Babylonia, to which the half man-half fish Oannes and other divinities coming out of the sea brought civilization, and told the story of the creation according to the native legend, which led to his account of Chaldean astrology. The second and third books contained the chronology and history of Babylonia and of later Assyria, beginning with the ten kings before the flood, then the story of the flood itself, followed by the restoration of kingship with a long line of kings after the flood, then five dynasties, and finally the late age of history under the Assyrians, the last Babylonian kingdom, and the Persians. Cuneiform texts written in the Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) language have corroborated several elements of Berosus' account. The original names of seven of Berosus' bringers of civilization (Oannes and his brethren) are included in a late-Babylonian tablet found at Uruk (modern Warka). His scheme of chronology and history, although imperfectly preserved in quotations, has been elaborately investigated by modern scholars and compared with the cuneiform literature.

Berosus' first book dealt with the beginnings of the world and with a myth of a composite being, Oannes, half fish, half man, who came ashore in Babylonia at a time when men still lived like the wild beasts. Oannes taught them the essentials of civilization: writing, the arts, law, agriculture, surveying, and architecture. The name Oannes must have been derived from the cuneiform U'anna (Sumerian) or Umanna (Akkadian), a second name of the mythical figure Adapa, the bringer of civilization. The second book of Berosus contained the Babylonian king list from the beginning to King Nabonassar (Nabu-nair, 747-734 BC), a contemporary of Tiglath-pileser III. Berosus' tradition, beginning with a list of primeval kings before the Flood, is a reliable one; it agrees with the tradition of the Sumerian king list, and even individual names can be traced back exactly to their Sumerian originals. Even the immensely long reigns of the primeval kings, which lasted as long as 18 sars (= 18 × 3,600 = 64,800) of years, are found in Berosus. Furthermore, he was acquainted with the story of the Flood, with Cronus as its instigator and Xisuthros (or Ziusudra) as its hero, and with the building of an ark. The third book is presumed to have dealt with the history of Babylonia from Nabonassar to the time of Berosus himself.



in Mesopotamian mythology, an amphibious being who taught mankind wisdom. Oannes, as described by the Babylonian priest Berosus, had the form of a fish but with the head of a man under his fish's head and under his fish's tail the feet of a man. In the daytime he came up to the seashore of the Persian Gulf and instructed mankind in writing, the arts, and the sciences. Oannes was probably the emissary of Ea, god of the freshwater deep and of wisdom.



(Akkadian), Sumerian Enki Mesopotamian god of water and a member of the triad of deities completed by Anu (Sumerian: An) and Enlil. From a local deity worshiped in the city of Eridu, Ea evolved into a major god, Lord of Apsu (also spelled Abzu), the fresh waters beneath the earth (although Enki means literally lord of the earth). In the Sumerian myth Enki and the World Order, Enki is said to have fixed national boundaries and assigned gods their roles. According to another Sumerian myth Enki is the creator, having devised men as slaves to the gods. Inhis original form, as Enki, he was associated with semen and amniotic fluid, and therefore with fertility. He was commonly represented as a half-goat, half-fish creature, from which the modern astrological figure for Capricorn is derived.

Ea, the Akkadian counterpart of Enki, was the god of ritual purification: ritual cleansing waters were called Ea's water. Ea governed the arts of sorcery and incantation. In some stories he was also the form-giving god, and thus the patron of craftsmen and artists; he was known as the bearer of culture. In his role as adviser to the king, Ea was a wise god although not a forceful one. In Akkadian myth, as Ea's character evolves, he appears frequently as a clever mediator who could be devious and cunning. He is also significant in Akkadian mythology as the father of Marduk, the national god of Babylonia.



Religions of the Hittites, Hattians, and Hurrians


In Anatolia itself myth seems to have remained on a rather primitive level. Such myths are found embedded in magical or ritual texts, aimed at curing diseases, ensuring good fortune, and the like.

A particularly well-attested type of myth occurs in connection with the invocation of an absent god and tells how the god once disappeared and caused a blight on Earth, how he was sought and found, and eventually returned to restore life and vigour. In one such myth the weather god withdraws in anger and the search is conducted by the sun god (whose messenger is an eagle), the father of the weather god, his grandfather, and his grandmother Hannahanna. In another, it is Telipinu who is angry, and the gods who search are the sun god, the weather god, and Hannahanna, the grandfather being omitted. In both these versions, the missing god is found by a bee sent forth by Hannahanna. In another similar story, the sun god and Telipinu are both missing, not from anger, but because they have been seized by Torpor, which has paralyzed nature. In yet another version, the weather god of Nerik is said to have gone down to the netherworld through a hole in the ground, apparently the hole from which the river Marassantiya (modern K[z[l Irmak) gushed forth, which suggests that this weather god may really have been a god of the underground waters.


Water as primal matter:

The conception of a primal body of water from which everything is derived is especially prevalent among peoples living close to coasts or in river areas e.g., the Egyptian Nu (the primordial ocean) and the Mesopotamian Apsu (the primeval watery abyss) and Tiamat (the primeval chaos dragon). The earth may be fished out or emerges from the primeval water; heavenly beings (e.g., Ataentsik, ancestress of the Iroquois) appear on the emerged earth; and birds lay an egg that is later divided into two halves (heaven and earth) on the chaotic sea. Thus, water is viewed as the foundation of all things. A survival of the original primeval sea in such myths is the water that flows around the earth's disk (e.g., Oceanus).



plural Kappa, in Japanese folklore, a type of vampire like lecherous creature that is more intelligent than the devilish oni (q.v.) and less malevolent toward men. Kappa are credited with having taught the art of bone setting to humans. They are depicted in legend and art as being the size of a 10-year-old child, yellow-green in colour, and resembling monkeys, but with fish scales or tortoise shells instead of skin. On the top of their head they have hollow indentations that are filled with water; if the water is spilled, they are said to lose their supernatural powers. Legends of encounters with kappa invariably include a reference to their capacity for keeping a promise, extracted from them after forcing their heads down or by tricking them into bowing low, thus spilling out the water. They have a taste for cucumbers, and a standard way of placating kappa is to throw a cucumber into the water where they live.



masculine mermana fabled marine creature with the head and upper body of a human being and the tail of a fish. Similar divine or semidivine beings appear in ancient mythologies (e.g., the Chaldean sea god Ea, or Oannes). In European folklore, mermaids (sometimes called sirens) and mermen were natural beings who, like fairies, had magical and prophetic powers. They loved music and often sang. Though very long-lived, they were mortal and had no souls.

Many folktales record marriages between mermaids (who might assume human form) and men. In most, the man steals the mermaid's cap or belt, her comb or mirror. While the objects are hidden she lives with him; if she finds them she returns at once to the sea. In some variants the marriage lasts while certain agreed-upon conditions are fulfilled, and it ends when the conditions are broken.

Though sometimes kindly, mermaids and mermen were usually dangerous to man. Their gifts brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters. To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck. They sometimes lured mortals to death by drowning, as did the Lorelei of the Rhine, or enticed young people to live with them underwater, as did the mermaid whose image is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor, Cornwall, Eng.

Aquatic mammals, such as the dugong and manatee, that suckle their young in human fashion above water are considered by some to underlie these legends.



also spelled Ondine mythological figure of European tradition, a water nymph who becomes human when she falls in love with a man but is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her. Derived from the Greek figures known as Nereids, attendants of the sea god Poseidon, Ondine was first mentioned in the writings of the Swiss author Paracelsus, who put forth his theory that there are spirits called undines who inhabit the element of water. A version of the myth was adapted as the romance Undine by Baron Fouqué in 1811, and librettos based on the romance were written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816 and Albert Lortzing in 1845. Maurice Maeterlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande (1892) was in part based on this myth, as was Ondine (1939), a drama by Jean Giraudoux. Compare gnome; sylph. The myth was also the basis of a ballet choreographed and performed by Margot Fonteyn.



in Greek religion, sea god called by Homer Old Man of the Sea, noted for his wisdom, gift of prophecy, and ability to change his shape. He was the son of Pontus, a personification of the sea, and Gaea, the Earth goddess. The Nereids (water nymphs) were his daughters by the Oceanid Doris, and he lived with them in the depths of the sea, particularly the Aegean. Aphrodite,the goddess of love, was his pupil. The Greek hero Heracles, in his quest for the golden apples of the Hesperides, obtained directions from Nereus by wrestling with him in his many forms. Nereus frequently appears in vase paintings as a dignified spectator.



in Greek religion, any of the daughters (numbering 50 or 100) of the sea god Nereus (eldest son of Pontus, a personification of the sea) and of Doris, daughter of Oceanus (the god of the water encircling the flat Earth). The Nereids were depicted as young girls, inhabiting any water, salt or fresh, and as benign toward humanity. They were popular figures in Greek literature. The best known of the Nereids were Amphitrite, consort of Poseidon (a sea and earthquake god); Thetis, wife of Peleus (king of the Myrmidons) and mother of the hero Achilles; and Galatea, a Sicilian figure loved by the Cyclops Polyphemus.



in Greek mythology, any of a large class of inferior female divinities. The nymphs were usually associated with fertile, growing things, such as trees, or with water. They were not immortal but were extremely long-lived and were on the whole kindly disposed toward men. They were distinguished according to the sphere of nature with which they were connected. The Oceanids, for example, were sea nymphs; the Nereids inhabited both saltwater and freshwater; the Naiads presided over springs, rivers, and lakes. The Oreads (oros, mountain) were nymphs of mountains and grottoes; the Napaeae (nape, dell) and the Alseids (alsos, grove) were nymphs of glens and groves; the Dryads or Hamadryads presided over forests and trees.

Italy had native divinities of springs and streams and water goddesses (called Lymphae) with whom the Greek nymphs tended to become identified.



in Roman religion, a water spirit worshiped in connection with Diana at Aricia and also with the Camenae in their grove outside the Porta Capena at Rome. Like Diana, she was a protectress of pregnant women and, like the Camenae, was considered prophetic. Traditionally she was the wife, or mistress, and adviser of King Numa Pompilius, who established the grove at Rome and consorted with her there.



also called nixie, or nixyin Germanic mythology, a water being, half human, half fish, that lives in a beautiful underwater palace and mingles with humans by assuming a variety of physical forms (e.g., that of a fair maiden or an old woman) or by making itself invisible. One of three attributes may betray the disguises of nixes: they are music lovers and excellent dancers, and they have the gift of prophecy. Usually malevolent, a nix can easily be propitiated with gifts. In some regions, nixes are said to abduct human children and to lure people into deep water to drown. According to some sources, nixes can marry human beings and bear human children.



among the Mordvins, the water mother, a spirit believed to rule the waters and their bounty; she is known as Vete-ema among the Estonians and Veen emo among the Finns. The water spirit belongs to a class of nature spirits common to the Finno-Ugric peoples dependent on fishing for much of their livelihood. Fishermen sacrificed to the water spirit as a personification of their concerns, gave her the first of their catch, and observed numerous taboos while fishing. Ved-ava, however, was also responsible for promoting fertility in humans and in livestock. In appearance the water mother reflected general European traditions of the mermaid: long hair that she may be seen combing while seated on a stone, large breasts, the lower part of the body fishlike. She can often be seen or heard playing music to entice people, but seeing Ved-ava generally bodes misfortune, most often drowning. Ved-ava has also been thought of as the spirit of a drowned person. At other times she is simply a personification of the water itself.



in Slavic mythology, the water spirit. The vodyanoy is essentially an evil and vindictive spirit whose favourite sport is drowning humans. Anyone bathing after sunset, on a holy day, or without having first made the sign of the cross risks being sucked into the water by the vodyanoy. He can assume many different forms that enable him to deceive and trap his victims. The vodyanoy lives alone in his particular body of water and is known to favour rivers with strong currents and swamps.


Types of cosmogonic myths:

Creation by earth divers

Two elements are important in myths of this type. There is, first, the theme of the cosmogonic water representing the undifferentiated waters that are present before the earth has been created. Secondly, there is an animal who plunges into the water to secure a portion of earth. The importance of the animal is that the creature agent is a pre human species. This version of the myth is probably the oldest version of this genre. This basic structure of the earth-diver myth has been modified in central Europe in myths that relate the story of the primordial waters, God, and the devil. In these versions of the earth-diver myth, the devil appears as God's companion in the creation of the world. The devil becomes the diver sent by God to bring earth from the bottom of the waters. In most versions of this myth, God does not appear to be omniscient or omnipotent, often depending on the knowledge of the devil for certain details regarding the creative act details that he learns through tricks he plays upon the devil.

In still different versions of this myth, the relationship between God and the devil moves from companionship to antagonism; they become adversaries, though they remain as co-creators of the world. The fact that the devil has had a part in the creation of the world is one way of explaining the origin and persistence of evil in the world.

Mircea Eliade, a noted 20th-century historian of religions, has pointed to another theme in certain Romanian versions of this myth. After God has instructed the devil to dive to the bottom of the waters and bring up the earth, the devil obeys, diving several times before he is able to bring up and hold on to a small portion of earth. After the creation of the world from this small portion of earth, God sinks into a profound sleep. This sleep is a sign of mental exhaustion, for only the devil and a bee know the solution to certain details of the creation, and God must, with the help of the bee, trick the devil into giving him this vital information. God's sleep, according to Eliade, is a sign of his passivity and disinterest in the world after it has been created, and it harks back to certain archaic myths in which the supreme deity retires from the world after its creation, becoming disinterested and passive in the relationship to his work.


Creation by world parents

Closely related to the above type of myth is the myth that states that the world is created as the progeny of a primordial mother and father. The mother and father are symbols of earth and sky, respectively. In myths of this kind, the world parents generally appear at a late stage of the creation process; chaos in some way exists before the coming into being of the world parents. In the Babylonian myth Enuma elish, it is stated,

When on high the heaven had not been named
Firm ground below had not been called by name,
Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,
(And) Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,
Their waters comingling as a single body;

The Maori make the same point when they state that the world parents emerge out of po. Po for the Maori means the basic matter and the method by which creation comes about. There is thus some form of reality before the appearance of the world parents.

Even though the world parents are depicted and described as in sexual embrace, no activity is taking place. They appear as quiescent and inert. The chthonic (underworld) structure of the earth as latent potentiality tends to dominate the union. The parents are often unaware that they have offspring, and thus a kind of indifference regarding the union is expressed. The union of male and female in sexual embrace is another symbol of completeness and totality.

As in the African myth from the Dogon referred to above, sexual union is a sign of androgyny (being both male and female) and androgyny, in turn, a sign of perfection. The indifference of the world parents is thus not simply a signof ignorance but equally of the silence of perfection. The world parents in the Babylonian and Maori myths do not wish to be disturbed by their offspring. As over against the parents, the offspring are signs of actuality, fragmentation, specificity; they define concrete realities.

The separation of the world parents is again a rupture within the myth. This separation is caused by offspring who wish either to have more space or to have light, for they are situated between the bodies of the parents. In some myths the separation is caused by a woman who lifts her pestle so high in grinding grain that it strikes the sky, causing the sky to recede into the background, thus providing room for the activities of mankind. In both cases an antagonistic motive must be attributed to the agents of separation. In the Babylonian and Maori versions of this myth, actual warfare takes place as a result of the separation.

Over against the primordial union of the world parents, there is the desire for knowledge and a different orientation in space. After the separation, lesser deities related to solar symbolism take precedence in the creation. The sun and light must be seen in these myths as representing the desire for a humanizing and cultural knowledge as over against the passive and inert forms of the union of the parent deities. From the point of separation, the mythic narrative of the world-parent myths states how different forms of cultural knowledge are brought to man by the offspring, the agents of separation. The separation of the world parents is the sign of a new cosmic order, an order dedicated to the techniques, crafts, and knowledge of culture.


Thales thought that the fundamental principle of cosmos was water. The earth floated on water; water was the natura lcause of all things. Anaximander taught that there was an eternal undestructible something out of which everything arises and everything returns. In other words, the fundamental substratum of the world could not be an element of the world. The importance of Anaximander was in his use of the term archA (beginning or rule) to refer to a principle unlike any other principle or element in the world to explain the cause of all other things in the universe.



in Hindu mythology, the physician of the gods. According to legend, the gods and the demons sought the elixir amta by churning the milky ocean, and Dhanvantari rose out of the waters bearing a cup filled with the elixir. The yurveda, a traditional system of medicine, is also attributed to him. The name has also been applied to other semi legendary and historical physicians and to a legendary king.



in Australian Aboriginal folklore, a legendary monster said to inhabit the reedy swamps and lagoons of the interior of Australia. The amphibious animal was variously described as having a round head, an elongated neck, and a body resembling that of an ox, hippopotamus, or manatee; some accounts gave it a human figure. The bunyip purportedly made booming or roaring noises and was given to devouring human prey, especially women and children. The origin of the belief probably lies in the rare appearance of fugitive seals far upstream; the monster's alleged cry may be that of the bittern marsh bird.