Mythology is a sort of important artistic creation of early human civilization. Usually recorded and inherited in the form of poems or similar literary works, mythology is the material information for the study of early human culture, and also the inspiration source of human beliefs as well as literary and artistic creation.
Mythologies of China, Greece, India, Egypt, North Europe and Ancient Roma are widely circulated in the world, but there are also some other unsystematic mythologies such as the mythologies of ancient Mayan, Persia and Celt, just to name a few.
The protagonists of myths are usually gods, including natural deities and deified heroes. And the plots of myths always involve shapeshifting, extraordinary power and magic. The significance of myths lies in explaining some natural and social phenomenons, many of the myths express ancient people’s wishes to conquer nature and reform society. According to the classification created by Chinese mythologist Yuan Ke, mythology fall into three categories: myths, legends and tales of immortals.
Figures in Ancient Legends
Pangu—creating the world; Kua Fu—chasing the sun; Suiren—drilling wood to make fire; Nüwa—creating mankind and repairing the Pillar of Heaven; Fuxi—creating the Eight Trigrams；Leigong and Zhurong; Shennong—the Medicine King; the Yellow Emperor; Leizu—the wife of the Yellow Emperor who discovered sericulture; Chiyou; Xingtian; Cangjie—the inventor of Chinese characters; Emperor Yao; Emperor Shun; Yu the Great—controlling the flood; Gong Gong—smashing his head against Mount Buzhou out of rage; Hou Yi—a god of archery who shot down nine suns; Chang’e—flying to the moon.
Figures in Tales of Immortals
The Three Pure Ones and the Four Heavenly Ministers—the highest sky deities of Taoist religion (the Three Pure Ones refer to Grand Pure One, Jade Pure One and Supreme Pure One; or Lord of the Way and its Virtue, Lord of Primordial Beginning and Lord of the Numinous Treasure; there are also many other theories).
The Jade Emperor; the Eight Immortals of Caves; the Immortals of Nine Stars; the Immortals of 28 Constellations; Bi Gan (the god of wealth); the Gods of Fortune, Emolument and Longevity; Taibai Jinxing; Mazu; Zhao Gongming (the martial god of wealth); the Holy Mothers of the Three Skies; the Great Deity of the Eastern Peak、the Fengdu Emperor; the Town God; the Earth God; Zhong Kui; Erlang Shen—cleaving Mount Tao to save his mother; Tam Kung.
Mythological Figure in Pre-Qin Literature
Taizhi Chuyi; Haotian Shangdi (the Highest Deity of the Vast Heaven); Houtu; Guyeshenren; Xiwei; Fuxi; Donghuang Taiyi; Jianwu; Zhuanxu; Yuqiang; Laochengzi; Nüyu; the Yellow Emperor; Huzi; Liezi; Guangchengzi; Longbo; Kua’e Shi; Xiangwang; Hebo; Hairuo; Zhiren; Zhenren; Shengren; Shenren; Huaren; Zhinü; Sishi; Sinü; Hou Ji; Juji; Yi Yin; Kongsang; Kua Fu; Paoxi Shi; Nüwa; Shengnong; Xiahou; Xuannü; Gong Gong; Zhuanxu; Caoshedashen; Dasiming (the Great Lord of Fate); Shaosiming (the Young Goddess of Fate); Yunzhongjun; Shangui (mountain ghost ); Xiang Jun; Xiang Furen (the Goddess of Xiang River); Xiwangmu (the Queen Mother of the West); King Mu of Zhou; Peng Zu; Goulao (a figure depicted in bamboo slips excavated in modern times, it should be some tribe which used tamed wolves as totem); Wang Qiao; Yuren; Baigao; Wu Peng; Wu Di; Yi (also known as Hou Yi); Heng’e (also known as Chang’e); Chisong.
Sacred Trees and Mythical Creatures in Pre-Qin Literature
Mingling; Dachun; the Sacred Bronze Tree; Kunpeng; dragon; female phoenix; male phoenix; Aoyu (sacred fish, it is said that earthquake happens as long as it moves); bear; brown bear; wolf; leopard; cheetah; tiger; eagle; He (some kind of combative bird); hawk; glede (the ten animals above are totem animals of the major ten tribes, once helped the Yellow Emperor in the Battle of Banquan); the Eight Horses of Emperor; thw Sunbird; the Moontoad; the Twin Fishes.
The Holy Land and Deity Land in Pre-Qin Literature
The Jade Pool; Kunlun; Qingdu; Ziwei (the Purple Forbidden enclosure); Juntian; Guangle;Dahe; Guixu; Fusang; Zhongbei; Huaxu; Gumang; Zhongyang (literally the Center); Fuluo; Jiaoyao; Chuguo; Manguo; Longboguo; Daiyu; Yuanqiao; Fangzhang; Yingzhou; Penglai; Mount Lieguye; Mount Miaoguye; Yuminguo; Xuanyuanguo; Baiminguo; Xuanpu; Langhuan; Danqiu.
Panaceas and Elixirs in Pre-Qin Literature
Medicine of Immortality (Elixir of Life); Deathless Tree; Bazhai; Diyao; Danmu; Yugao; Yurong; Yuying; Zhuilu; Luoying; Qiongzhi; Guijiang; Mulan; Chenghuang; Jiliang (the Chenghuang and Jiliang are not medicine or food, but mythical creatures; the ones who ride them will have another one or two thousand years to live, in other words, they help increase the lifespan but will not make human live forever or bring the dead back to life).
Mythical Creatures and Demons
Ao; Xiaotianquan; Bashe; Fenghuang (pheonix); Jiguang; Jian; Jingwe—filling up the sea; Sushuang; Peng; Qingniao (blue or green bird); Qinglong (azure dragon); Baihu (white tiger); Zhuque (vermilion bird); Xuanwu (black tortoise); Longwang (dragon king); Shenlong; Dilong; Tianlong; Qilin; Pixiu; Kui; Kun; Jiangshi (zombie); Hulijing (fox spirit); Nian; Xiabingxiejiang (literally shrimp soldiers and crab generals); Ruishi; Taotie; Qiaoqi; Taowu; Hundun; Xiao; Chi; Mei; Wang; Liang; Tuo; Yazi; Suanni; Bi’an; Pulao; Fuzhi; Chiwen (Chiwei); Jiaotu; Qiuniu; Chaofeng.
Figures in Folklores
In many Chinese folklores, military generals who eliminated the plague are also worshipped in the temple, and thus included in this category.
Qixiannü (the Seventh Fairy); Zaojun; Huang Daxian (Wong Tai Sin); Tangong (Tam Kung); Chegong (Marshall Che); Houwanghongsheng.
Ancient Indian Mythology
The formation of Indian mythology is closely related to the history of Ancient India. Around 3000 BC, some civilizations emerged in the Indus Valley. Later around 2000 BC, an army of Aryans moved south and invaded India. After countless wars, the Aryans entered Ganges valley and enslaved the local aborigines. As a result, the local aboriginal civilization was destroyed and changed.
Indra: the king of the highest heaven.
It is a deity in Hinduism, and was also called Sakra in ancient India. According to the classics of Hinduism, Indra used to be a Brahman of Magadha. Because of his charity and generosity, he went to the Trayastrimsa and became the ruler of the Trayastrimsa heaven. These records are another concretization of Indra’s godship in the Indian Buddhism era after the Vedic era.
Agni: the god of fire.
Agni is the god of fire in Vedism and Indian Brahmanism, and the word Agni literally means fire in Sanskrit. At the very beginning of world, Brahma the Creator, created eight good gods with his belly button and named them Vasus, which means the Wealth Givers; Agni is the sixth among the eight Vasus, and for being the strongest one he became the leader of Vasus.
As above mentioned, literally Agni means fire in Sanskrit, and thus it is a deification of fire which symbolizes the eternal miracle of fire. Ancient Indian believed that the oblations offered to Agni would be purified and shared with other deities, in this sense, Agni also stands for purifier and courier.
Varuna: the god of water.
Varuna is the deity of sky, rain and sea in Indian mythology.
Yama: the god of death.
According to the Vedas, Yama is the first mortal who went to the heaven after death. Therefore, he is the ruler of the departed and he guides the souls of the dead to the heaven. But in the records later, Yama was regarded as the god of death. Also, he is the guardian of the south, and deity of justice and law.
Surya: the god of sun.
Surya was born from some part of the Brahma. He is honored as the deity of vitality. Also, he brings wisdom to the mortals, controls wind and rain, and rules everything moving or resting. He moves in his own regular routine, so as to support the earth and sky for permanent stablility. Besides, he is the first god to be offered up a sacrifice, in return he gives human fire. Therefore, just like Indra and Agni, he is considered one of the most important deities in the Vedic period. In Buddhism, he ranks among the Twelve Devas, similarly, the Nit-ten in Japanese Buddhism.
Brahma: the god of creation.
As the rise of Indian Buddhism, Brahma became one of the Dharmapalas (protector god) in Buddhism. In the Southeast Asia where Theravada Buddhism is very popular, especially Thailand, Brahma is also called the Phra Phrom. He is said to be able to bring blessing, wealth and luck to people, and thus has a lot of believers in this region.
Visnu: the god of protection.
In Indian mythology, Brahma is in charge of creation, Shiva governs destruction, and Visnu is the god of “preservation”. Visnu is kind and gentle. He always gives blessings and kindnesses to his devout believers, and saves the world with different incarnations.
Shiva: the god of music, dance and destruction.
Shiva is the god of destruction, and one of the Hindu triad (Trimurti).
Shiva’s predecessors are the Pashupati (the lord of the animals) and Rudra (the roaring god), and thus has dual personalities of reproduction and devastation as well as creation and destruction. He also has different appearances,such as Lingam, terror look, gentle look, superman, three-faces, dancer, half-woman and so on. He is usually worshipped in the aniconic form of Lingam.
Asura: the demon.
Asura is the opponent of the sura (deva).
Garuda: a golden-winged legendary bird which reached its nirvana in the fire and became immortal.
Garuda is a kind of huge bird in Indian mythology. In Hinduism, it is the mount of Vishnu (one of the Hindu triad), while in Buddhism it is one of the Astagatyah (the eight classes of inhuman beings). Garuda lives on the Naga. But to be closer to Chinese culture, Buddhists in China translated the word Naga (a serpentine race) into “dragon race”. The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (a temple in Chiangmai, Thailand) is one of such examples. The Naga ornamentals in this temple have no claws, indicating that they are actually serpents instead of dragons.
Ancient Greek Mythology
Ancient Greek mythology includes all the verbal and non-verbal myths regarding deities, heroes, natural and universal history of ancient Greece. It is the spiritual outcome of primitive clan society and the earliest literary form in Europe. Ancient Greek mythology were created around 8th century BC, and formed up by the oral spread of primitive Greek people. They were recorded in the Homeric epics, Hesiod’s Theogony and the other ancient Greek works of poetry, drama, history and philosophy. Later it was systematized into the present ancient Greek mythology, which falls into two categories: stories of deities and legend of heroes.
The Differences Between Deities and Human
In the Greek mythology, deities are anthropomorphic. They have both body beauty and sentiments as well as the feelings of pain and joy. They even participate in human activities. The only difference between deities and human is, the former are immortal while the latter have limited life. The deities in the Greek mythology have distinct individualities, but few of them are stoic or mystical. The beauty of Greek mythology is that the deities have their destinies, they will also be trapped in love and do bad things for their own benefit. Greek mythology is not only the soil of Greek literature, it also has profound influences on European literature.
In the theories of the Nouvelle Theologie, the deities live on the Mount Olympus. Zeus overthrowed his father’s ruling, and established a new reign where there were also twelve Olympians (Roman pantheon roughly corresponds to it, but the names and temperaments are different; planets in the solar system are also named after the Roman pantheon).
The Twelve Olympians
Zeus: the god of sky and thunder, the king of the gods on Mount Olympus.
Hera: the queen of the gods, the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth. She is the sister and wife of Zeus, the third daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Roman people also called her Juno.
Poseidon: the god of the sea and earthquakes, brother of Zeus.
Hades: the god of the dead, ruler of the underworld, the afterlife and death. He is the eldest among the three Lord Gods, In other words, he is the elder brother of Zeus and Poseidon.
Athena: the goddess of wisdom and daughter of Zeus and Metis. She is the goddess associated with warfare, peace, law, order, handicraft and labor, and also one of the Three Goddesses (Eris stands for violence and bloodshed, while Athena stands for the war of justice).
Helios: the god of sun. He is the son of Hyperion and Theia, brother of the goddesses Selene (the moon) and Eos (the dawn), and father of the goddess Circe. In the myths created later, Helios is gradually equated with Apollo, the god of sunlight. The Colossus of Rhodes is actually a bronze statue of the Greek sun-god Helios.
Aceso: the goddess of health, the daughter of Asclepius and Epione. Her personification is a young woman holding a bowl where there is a snake. She is also the goddess associated with curing in Greek mythology.
Artemis: the god of wilderness, hunting and moon, and the daughter of Zeus and Leto. As one of the Three Goddesses, she is the incarnation of the primitive power of nature. Since the 5th century BC, she has been equated with another Greek goddess, Selene.
Aphrodite: the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, famous for her Roman equivalent, Venus. (It is said that Cronus chopped Uranus with sickle, casting Uranus’ testicles into the Aegean Sea. The testicles produced a white foam from which the goddess Aphrodite emerged).
Hermes: the god of commerce, market, traveling, roads and thieves; the guide to the underworld (also the son of Zeus and Maia; and the messenger of gods).
Ares: the god of war, force and valiancy, the son of Zeus and Hera.
Hephaestus: the god of fire, forging and crafts; the protector of blacksmiths; the son of Zeus and Hera; and husband of Aphrodite (However, Aphrodite does not appreciate the ingenuity and physiognomy of Hephaestus, instead she has affairs with many other deities).
Dionysus: the god of the wine and theater (he ranks among the Twelve Olympians after Hestia gave the place to him, and he is the only one of deities who has mortal descent).
Hestia: the goddess of hearth and home (she ranked among the Twelve Olympians, but later gave her place to Dionysus, the god of wine. She is the sister of Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus; and also one of the Three Goddesses).
Demeter: the goddess of agriculture and harvest. She is the seceond daughter of Cronus and Rhea, the second elder sister and fourth wife of Zeus. Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter.
The Norse mythology refers to the myths peculiar to North Europe. It emerged later than the other mythologies, but its oral spreading can be dated back to the 1st century. At first it was only popular in nordic countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden, but was later spreaded north to Iceland by immigrants around 7th century. The North Europe geographically includes the nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland, but Norse mythology normally does not include the Finnish myths, as Finland has an independent mythologic system. What is particular of Norse mythology is, unlike the most mythologies which center upon the Creation, Norse mythology emphatically describes the end of world.
In Norse mythology, deities are imperfect and subject to death. That is the biggest difference between Norse mythology and the other mythologies in the world. But on the other hand, in Norse mythology, when the world is destroyed, new life will emerge again, and everything in the world is cyclic. During the Middle Ages, Christianity prevailed throughout the Europe. As a result, Norse mythology was seen as heterodoxy and the most relevant literary works were burnt. The only few works survived to this days are Icelandic epic Edda, Germanic epic Nibelungenlied and others.
Odin is the king of the gods, ruler of the world. He wears a golden helmet, with two ravens resting on his shoulders. These two ravens respectively symbolizes “thought” and “memory”. Every morning they fly all over the world and report back to Odin about what they see. Besides Odin’s feet there sit two wolves named “greed” and “desire”, serving as Odin’s guards. In order to enhance intelligence and predict the future for better ruling, Odin is eager to drink the water in Mimisbrunnr, the holy well beneath the world tree Yggdrasil. But Mimir, the giant guarding the well, asked him to offer one eye as the price. Without hesitation, Odin gouged out one of his eyes. After drinking the water in Mimisbrunnr, Odin became more erudite and intelligent. He invented ancient Nordic letters, with which the fairies record the destinies on the shields. That is Runes, the source of all the magics.
Frigg is the goddess of love in Norse mythology. As the wife of Odin, she governs marriage and family, has dominion over both paradise and hell. And she is gorgeous, with white feathers in his blonde hair. Usually she wears a white coat with a golden belt, and there hangs a set of keys on the belt. In addition, she likes beautiful costumes and shiny jewelries. Once she stole Odin’s gold to trade for a precious necklace. Odin left home out of rage when he learned this. Jötnar, the frost giants, took the opportunity and soon took over the dominion over the world. Severe winter followed and suffocated all life. The crisis was not solved until Odin got back to Asgard seven months later.
Thor is the god of thunder, the eldest son of Odin and Fjörgyn (goddess of earth). He governs warfare and agriculture, and is the major enemy of Jötnar. Tall and strong Thor has a pair of blazing eyes and a golden beard. He wields the mountain-crushing hammer Mjölnir, wears the iron gloves Jarngreipr and the belt Megingjörd. Thor spends most of his time at eastern border to defend the home of deities from jötnar and Jörmungandr. He has a bad temper and dares to contradict Odin, but is also of integrity and uprightness. When the Ragnarök came, Thor and Jörmungandr (the Midgard Serpent) had a fierce fight and killed one another.
In modern literary and artistic works, Thor appears as the eldest son of Odin in many cases, but actually there is no historical materials indicating they are father and son. According to the Icelandic epic Edda, he might be the son of Tyr.
Sif is the wife of Thor and goddess of earth and harvest. She has particularly enchanting long blonde hair which is shining like beautiful gold. Being proud of her hair, Sif always sits in the garden and combs her blonde hair, which makes Loki want to do some pranks on her. Once he shaved off Sif’s hair while she was asleep. Loki’s prank made Sif very sad. Upon knowing Loki’s prank, Thor was enraged and threatened to break every bone in Loki’s body. Loki pleaded with Thor and asked for permission to go down to Svartalfheim, the cavernous home of the dwarves, to see if these master craftspeople could fashion a new head of blonde hair for Sif. Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, is also made by dwarf craftsmen, along with the blonde hair.
Freyr is the god of fertility, prosperity, love and peace. As one of the Vanir (a group of gods), he is also the king of Alfheimr, the realm of the Elves. One story is, he is the god of luminosity (or sun), the same as Baldr. The elfs under him do good works all over the world. He often patorls by riding his mount Gullinbursti, a boar with golden and shining mane. People enjoy the peace and happiness given by him. He has a shining sword and the ability of flying. He also possesses a foldable magic ship Skidbladnir, which can carry all the gods and their weapons when necessarily.
Loki is the god of fire, trick and evil. He is the son of jötunn Farbauti and half-brother of Odin. As the descendant of jötnar, Loki is handsome and eloquent. He is not of great power, but his children, such as Fenrir, Jörmungandr and Hel, are all formidable enemies to the gods. Looking kind and genial in appearance, he is actually a troublemaker. At first he just does pranks for fun, such as shaving off Sif’s hair. But later he became unscrupulous, even incited Höðr (god of darkness) to kill Baldr (god of brightness) just out of envy. As a result, he received the harshest punishment. He was bound by entrails of one of his sons, with venom constantly dripping down to his face, making his face even more ferocious and ghastly.
Tyr is the god of war, and the son of jötunn Hymir. In the Edda, he is called the All-father. According to legend, he is the guarantor of contract and defender of oath. When the other gods were trying to tie up the evil wolf Fenrir, as the guarantor of credit, Tyr put his arm in Fenrir’s mouth. Fenrir bited off Tyr’s arm when it realized that it was a trap set up be gods. Tyr lost one of his arms. But his sword still made him look majestic. The ancient oath of sword originates from Norsemen’s worship of Tyr. And many traditional sword dances are choreographed in memory of Tyr.
Freyja is the goddess of fertility and love, and the sister of Freyr. She is very amiable, and beloved by people, as when they are fighting the cold, they are longing for the spring. Sometimes she wears gorgeous costumes while sometimes in armor, leading his fairies to sort out the sacrificed heroes. In some stories, she and Frigg are the same goddess.
Heimdallr is the guardian of the gods. Also named Rig, he has gold teeth. His eyes are so sharp that he can see at night just as well as if it were day, and for a very long distance. Heimdallr’s hearing is also quite keen; he can hear grass as it grows on the earth. Day and night he sits on the edge of heaven to guard the Bifröst bridge from the berg jötnar. He rides golden-maned horse Gulltoppr and carries the resounding horn Gjallarhorn, which will be blown to call in the gods when an emergency occurs. According to the legend, he is the first line of defense of Asgard. During the Ragnarök, Heimdallr and Loki killed one another.
Baldr is the son of Odin and god of brightness. He is good-looking and talented, always stays happy. When he smiles, it makes people feel joyful. Once he had a nightmare, which gave him the foreboding that someone would plot against him. Thereupon, Odin sent out messagers with the order that Baldr should not be hurt. However, the messager did not convey the order to mistletoe, as he thought there was no need to worry about this fragile and weak plant. Loki took this opportunity, made arrows with mistletoe, incited and even assisted Höðr (god of darkness) to shoot Baldr to death.
Höðr is the god of darkness, twin brother of Baldr, but is blind in both eyes. He is by nature melancholy and withdrawn, also hostile to brightness. Under Loki’s instigation, he killed his brother Baldr, the god of brightness.
Víðarr is the son of Odin and the jötunn Gríðr. He is the personification of immortal power of nature, and also called the god of forest. He and his brother Váli are destined to survive the Ragnarök and become the deities of new world.
He is tall and strong, always wears armor and carries a large sword, but has only one boot. Some people belive that this boot is fire-proof and made of iron by his mother Gríðr, becasuse she knows he will fight against the fire forever. While another theory is, the boot is made of leather, even wasted leather discarded by leatherworkers. During the Ragnarök, Fenrir defeated and swallowed Odin. Víðarr made the revenge for his father by stepping on Fenrir’s lower jaw, gripping its upper jaw and tore it into two pieces. Therefore, he is also called the god of vengeance.
Ancient Egyptian Mythology
Egyptian mythology is an important part of ancient Egyptian religion. It is the collection of Egyptian deity system and religion before the introduction of Christianity and Islamism. The ancient Egyptian religious belief exists for over three thousand years along with many great changes. The biggest difference between Egyptian mythology and those of Greece and Roma is, most Egyptian deities have human bodies and animal heads. The ancient Egyptian religious belief is a sort of polytheism, where the most deities can be symbolized by animals.
Ancient Egyptian believe that they will go to the afterworld after their death. They think body is the vessel of soul, which leaves every evening and returns in the morning. They also hold the belief that soul can be resurrected after death, as long as the body is preserved for the residence of soul, and thus they invent anticorrosion techniques and mummyfication.
Ra: the god of sun.
Shu: the god of wind.
Tefnut: the goddess of rain.
Geb: the god of earth.
Nut: the goddess of sky.
Osiris: the god of the afterworld, also governs fertility.
Isis: the wife of Osiris, mother of Horus, goddess of the earth, and also governs life.
Set: the god of disorder, war, desert and foreigners.
Nephthys: the protector of the death and mother of Anubis.