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Miscellaneous myths and symbols


Abaddon
Apollyon in Greek, the ruler of the Depths. A legend tells that he was an angel who was drawn into Satan's side at the scene between God and Satan, against his will. The legend further states that he was by the cross when Christ was crucified, begging for mercy, but remains silent of whether he actually received it.

Antares
"Anti-Mars", the reddish main star of the constellation Scorpius.

Apple
Apples have many different symbolic connotations. Among the oldest is the concept of 'forbidden fruit' - the similarity of Latin words meaning apple (malus, malum) and bad or sin (malum) may have contributed to this. During the Middle Ages a common theme in paintings was a skeleton holding an apple, symbolizing: "The reward of sin is death".

Asphodelus
A plant of the genus Asphodelus, having dark green leaves and white, pink or yellow flowers. It was believed to grow on the fields of Hades, delighting the souls of the dead.

Bones
Many old cultures regard bones as the last and in the symbolic and ritual sense the most important remnants of the deceased person after his/her flesh has turned to dust. Because bones appear 'eternal' - they can be preserved in favourable conditions several thousands of years, they are also considered the seeds of the resurrection body. At the Judgement Day the graves then yield their contents, the bones are reassembled and covered with a new flesh.

Daphne
When Apollo once met Eros by a river, he made fun of the appearance of the cherubic god and boasted about his own heroic deeds, especially the slaying of the serpent Python. Eros became angry at this. He took an arrow with a golden head from his quiver, shooted it to the heart of Apollo and disappeared. After a while Eros saw a beautiful river nymph Daphne on a nearby hillside. Knowing that Apollo would next meet Daphne he shot a lead-headed arrow to her heart, thus making his revenge. When Apollo saw Daphne, he immediately fell madly in love with her and revealed his feelings with poetic verses. To his great surprise Daphne did not rush at his arms as other women would have done but fled since the lead arrow had made her eternally scornful to love. Apollo thought that the nymph was only shy and pursued after her. As Apollo was just about to catch her, Daphne prayed her father, the river god Ladon (sometimes Peneus), to save her from the molester. At that moment Ladon changed her to a laurel tree, the plant beloved by the god.
A Laconian version of the legend makes Daphne the daughter of Amyclas. Fond of the chase and wild in her ways, she would not live in cities, but spent her time wandering among the mountains. Leucippus, son of king Oenomaus, fell in love with her, and in order to be closer to her he disguised himself as a girl and joined her companions. Daphne became fond of him in his disguise and this made Apollo jealous. In revenge he inspired Daphne and her companions with a sudden wish to bathe in a mountain pool. When Leucippus hesitated to remove his clothing his companions forcibly undressed him and discovered his imposture. At that, they attacked him with their lances but gods made him invisible. Apollo dashed forward to seize Daphne, but she ran off and in answer to her prayer, Zeus turned her into a laurel tree.

Golden Age
In his Works and Days Hesiod cites a myth telling of the different races which had followed each other since the beginning of mankind. Originally, he says, there was a 'golden race'. This was during the time when Cronus was still ruling in heaven. Men in those days lived like the gods, free from worries and safe from grief and distress. They knew nothing of old age but spent their time, eternally young, in banquets and festivals. When the time came for them to die, they went peacefully to sleep. They were not subject to the necessity of work. Every good thing came to them spontaneously. The soil needed no labour to produce large crops, and men lived in peace in the midst of the countryside. Although this race vanished from the earth with the reign of Zeus, they still remain as good spirits, protectors of mankind and distributors of wealth.

Ivy
(Hedera Helix) A climbing wine having smooth, shiny, evergreen leaves, small yellowish flowers and black berries. The muse Thalia was described as having a wreath of ivy on her temples. Because ivy folds tightly around its support plant it has been held as a symbol of faithful love and friendship. Also because ivy continues to grow even on dead trees, it has been seen as a symbol of the life of a soul after it has left the mortal body.

Parthenos
Among others, the name of a heroine who became the constellation Virgo. Traditions vary as to her identity. One version gives her as the daughter of Apollo and Chrysotherus. She died young and was changed into a constellation by her father. Another version makes her the daughter of Zeus and Themis and identifies her with Dike (Justice), who lived on earth during the Golden Age. This tradition is represented in particular by Virgil, who in Eclogue IV sees in the return of the constellation of Virgo a presage of the coming of an age of justice.

Rose
Any wild or cultivated shrub of the genus Rosa. The first roses were said to have grown from the blood of Adonis, the beloved of Aphrodite, who was killed and later resurrected. Roses thus became a symbol of love beyond the death, and that of resurrection. Unlike the red rose of love, the white rose has often been a symbol of death.

Sandglass
A symbol of the perishable and the passing of time, sometimes also that of death. The Latin words 'memento mori', remember the death, are often engraved to a sandglass. It advises to a virtuous and temperate life so that one would not waste time in vain.

Scorpion
  1. Any of numerous arachnids of the order Scorpionida having long segmented tail ending in a venomous sting. As a counterbalance of the poisonous nature of the scorpion healing and resurrection has been identified with this animal already at the ancient Egypt.
  2. The constellation Scorpius, the eighth sign of the Zodiac. Among the traits connected to this sign by astrology are masculine sexuality, the lust of destruction, interest in secret ceremonies and search for mystical illumination.


Selket (Serqet, Serket, Selkis)
The ancient Egyptian scorpion-goddess, shown as a beautiful woman with a scorpion poised on her head; her creature struck death to the wicked, but she was also petitioned to save the lives of innocent people stung by scorpions.

Seven
The number of perfection repeatedly encountered in mysticism. The list of the seven mortal sins enumerates traits not particularly sinister per se, but particularly hard for penitence. They thus give a glimpse of the inherent nature of the human mind. The list varies depending on the source but approximately they are drinking (alternatively gluttony), envy, greed, wrath, pride, spiritual indolence (or more secularly laziness) and lust.
At the Apocalypse, opening of the seven seals calls forth 1) a white rider, victory 2) a red rider, war 3) a black rider, famine 4) an ash grey rider, death 5) the martyrs 6) The Day of Wrath 7) silence

Swallow
Any passerine bird of the family Hirundinidae. A fable tells that the swallows give sight to their offspring by squeezing the juice of celandine into their eyes. Hence the swallow has become a symbol of everybody's eyes opening at the Judgement Day.

Thalia
  1. A muse having originally no particular function but who ended up presiding particularly over comedy and light verse. She was said to have borne Apollo sons, the Corybantes.
  2. One of the Charites, a daughter of Zeus and Eurynome.


Yew
An evergreen, coniferous shrub belonging to the genus Taxus. Because of its long lifetime it was held as a symbol of immortality and the hope of continuity of personal existence beyond death. It is still a popular ornamental plant on the graveyards.



Teemu Mäkinen (teemu.makinen@fmi.fi)