Tag Archives: Mythology

Earthquake on a Bull’s Horns

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father, that was told to him in a casual setting during his childhood in a Pakistani village.

Background: The informant was recounting some sayings and stories that his eldest aunt used to tell him and other children during the day, sometimes while she was working. This particular piece was collected soon after an earthquake occurred. As a child, he recalls being captivated by such fantastical stories, although he is not sure whether the adults actually believed them or merely told them to children to entertain them.

Main piece: 

Informant: (After an earthquake) How can an earthquake happen? The whole ground was shaking!

Aunt: You should know that the earth is held up by a huge bull. He supports the whole world by balancing it on one of his horns. When he gets tired of holding it up, the bull switches the earth to his other horn, causing an earthquake to occur.

Analysis: This story is fascinating to me because it isn’t immediately apparent how such a myth was introduced to the area my father was growing up in. After some digging, it appears there may be a basis for this story in medieval Islamic cosmography, the unorthodox ideas relating to the structure of the universe held by some scholars of the time period. It has also been claimed that this could be derived from the biblical Leviathan. There is also a very similar Bosnian-Slavic myth, Tur, which tells of a giant bull that lives underground, causing earthquakes when he moves his horn, and even similarities to the Greek myth of Atlas holding up the world on his shoulders. 

For a very similar relation of this myth, see chapter 5 in the book Developments in Earth Surface Processes volume 17, Earthquakes and Coseismic Surface Faulting on the Iranian Plateau: A Historical, Social and Physical Approach.

Durga Puja


The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about holidays and celebrations.


We have another festival that is very… what should I say? It’s the main festival from West Bengal, which is where I come from. And that’s called Durga Puja. Puja is any kind of celebration that involves some kind of religious prayer ceremony. So let me start off with Dussehra. So what happens is, and as you know, our Indian calendar is a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. So the date of this celebration varies from end of September to end of October, depending on the lunar cycle. It’s actually a nine day festival, but the main days of the celebration are days six, seven, eight, and nine. And on the tenth day, so the story goes like this:

There’s this goddess, Durga, she lives in the Himalayas with her husband Shiva. And she has two sons and two daughters. One of her daughters is the goddess of wealth, Laxmi. Her other daughter is the daughter of knowledge, Saraswati. The other son used to be the sons of fighting battles, Kartik. And then there’s the elephant god, the youngest of her sons, Ganesh.

I’ll tell you a little story about Ganesh. His mother was taking a bath and she told him that, “You know what, I’m taking a bath, don’t let anybody come in here, because I don’t want anybody to come in.”

In the meantime, his father, Shiva, comes to visit, and Ganesh says, “You can’t come in,” because, apparently, he’s never seen his father before.

His father, also a god, says “Of course I can go in, that’s my house.”

And Ganesh said, “No, you cannot go in! My mom said I’m supposed to be guarding the door and I won’t let you in.” The father gets very upset and looks at Ganesh with so much anger, that his head falls off his shoulder.
The mother comes out and sees what’s happened, and is like, “Why did you just do that to our little boy?”

So by that time, his anger has kind of subsided, and he’s like, “Oh my god, we can’t have him without a head. We have to find a new head!” So apparently, he sends people all over the world, saying, “Go find me the first living creature who’s sleeping with its head facing the East. Cut off its head and bring it to me.” So everybody goes everywhere and can’t find someone, because, apparently in India you can’t sleep with your head towards the East, since the sun rises in the East. They go all over the world, and they find this elephant. So what they do is, they cut off its head and they bring it.

And the mother goes, “What the heck! I can’t put that head on my little baby!”

The father says, “Well, I can’t change the rule, I said the first living being with its head facing the East,” so he puts the head on the child, and the child is alive.

The mother goes, “No one is going to worship him! Everyone will make fun of him! Nobody is going to respect him.” So now it is written that, before any prayer or any celebration, – anything – you have to first pray to Ganesh before you can do any official celebration. So now in every part of India, before prayer, or any celebration – a wedding, anything – you must first pray to Ganesh. Ganesh is also the God of removing obstacles, so he’s become a very popular symbol. I have a Ganesh in my house; I think your mom has a Ganesh in your house, too.

So, that is Ganesh’s story, but that is also the youngest son of Durga when she comes to visit. And so the art is her parent’s house. So she comes for those few days, with her children, and on the tenth day, she goes back to the Himalayas to be with her husband. So what happens in West Bengal where I come from, is those days are… it’s a lot of fun, all the schools, offices, colleges, everything is closed. It’s hard for me to explain. They put up all these temporary structures on the streets and stuff and then have these celebrations and, it’s like all over West Bengal. And there is food, there is music, there is lighting. So that is the story behind one of our festivals.

RB: We call it religious, but they are more social religious than just religious, because it all involves inviting people, having dinners, lunches, dressing up, having music and dances. There’s a lot of culture that is associated with these festivals, so it is not that you’re just in the temple, reciting hymns or chanting. That is a very small part. It’s all about dressing up, looking good, and eating food. That is how we keep in touch with each other. At these festivals, at these religious ceremonies as we call it, we go visit each other. We keep in touch with each other and socialize with each other. I think we use it more for socializing and less for religion, which is how it should be.

One thing I want to clarify is that Hinduism is not a religion. It is mostly a way of life. And that is why you can’t be converted to Hinduism: because, either you are born one or you’re not. And if you are born one, you are taught the way of life since you’re born. But, you can still marry into it. We do not require people to change their religion when you marry, because we just think that when you come to a Hindu household, you will learn the way of life. Hinduism does not require that you go to a temple everyday, or pray everyday. They just teach us that everything should be a part of your life: that you clean your house and take care of each other, etc.


It was very fascinating to hear about how many of the primary holidays in India/West Bengal have elaborate creation myths of their own. It seems that many of the holidays are tied in directly with the events of the religion’s mythology, celebrating anniversaries of the Gods’ actions and locations in the mythologies.

It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and use religious holidays as excuses to throw huge social celebrations. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.


The Myth of Persephone

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.


CS: “So how did you learn this myth?”

EAL: “I was really into Greek mythology as a kid and my mom bought me like a big book of Greek mythologies and we’d read them together as bedtime stories when I was really young.”

CS: “Can you tell me the story?”

EAL: “So basically Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the god of harvest. She was very carefree, beautiful, and like vibrant. And so Hades, who is the God of the underworld, who is like dark and depressing, saw her and said he wanted her to be his wife. So she was playing in the field and his chariot comes up out of the ground and he abducts her and takes her to the underworld. And then because she was in the underworld and Demeter was so upset, winter came because she was heartbroken about the abduction of her daughter. And while Persephone was in the underworld she ate six seeds so like she has to stay in the underworld since she ate the food of the dead for six months, so that kind of explains the seasons. So the summer she can be with Demeter and its like the harvest season, and then the winter she has to be with Hades and that’s why it’s winter.”

CS: “Did you ever hear varied versions of this myth?”

EAL: “Yeah I’ve heard it before, maybe without the season aspect, so I think there’s definitely variations that leave that out. In others they’re married, but in the version I’ve read she doesn’t love him at all and is just kind of stuck with him.



The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.


An in person conversation recorded while walking to an event.



I found this myth really captivating because I also used to love Greek mythology and was an avid reader of myths such as this one. I hadn’t heard this version before in regards to how that is where seasons originate. I believe when I used to read Greek mythology it was from a children’s book so it makes sense why details such as that would be left out. It is interesting to see how folk myths, even when tied to religion, still have variations from one to the next.


Egyptian Myth

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.


EAL: “So basically like this is one of the Egyptian myths out there and one of the most influential. So Osiris he was like a god and the king of Egypt. And his…um, brother Set, who is the god of chaos basically, imprisons him in a sarcophagus and so like Set takes the throne. And…um, Osiris’ wife Isis still has their son whose name his Horus. And basically she like protects him because he’s vulnerable or whatever. And once Horus grows up to where he’s strong enough, he fights Set and tries to take the throne back for his family and resurrect Osiris.

CS: “Does he do it?”

EAL: “Yeah so he defeats Set and Osiris becomes the king of the afterlife and restores ma’t (the order of the universe).”

CS: “How did you learn this story?”

EAL: “I read a book called the Red Pyramid Chronicles. And I also learned a lot of it through my art history class because it features a lot of Egyptian art.”



The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.


An in person conversation that was recorded while walking to an event.



I found this myth to be interesting because she has learned the story in two completely different facets of knowledge: a young adult series and an art history class. The idea that both referenced this Egyptian myth at some point in time really reflects the idea that folklore travels into all fields and this is an agreeable reason why it is always subject to variation.

Origins of the Hawaiian Kalo Plant

The informant is an 18-year-old college student attending university in Hawaii. She was born and raised in the Bay Area, California, but has a great deal of family living in Hawaii who she visited frequently when growing up.

While I was on a hike with the informant in San Ramon, California over spring break, I asked her if there were any Hawaiian myths or legends regarding the islands themselves, and she explained to me the history of the taro plant.

“Father Sky and Mother Earth were brother and sister, and they had, kind of like an incestuous relationship, and their first child was a stillborn and they buried it in the ground. That’s what taro plant is, in Hawaii it’s called kalo, and they use it to make a dish called poi. It’s really important to Hawaiians because each taro plant is like the first stillborn, and it’s kinda cool because a taro plant is a stem and a big leaf and there’s a little circle part in the middle that is supposed to be the bellybutton”

The taro plant, called kalo in Hawaii, is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine. This mythology incorporating the taro plant with the origin of the Earth itself shows how much importance Hawaiians place on the land. The land is often still viewed as being Mother Earth, and it is of the utmost importance that Hawaiians are respectful to their ancestors. So, it follows that Hawaiians must be extremely respectful to Mother Earth herself, their land, and this myth encourages every resident of the newly declared state to do their part to take care of their home and warns against wastefulness. This explains why so many native Hawaiians find it necessary to be rude to tourists and foreigners who carelessly destroy their sacred home. The informant said that anyone from Hawaii knows of the origin story describing kalo, and so I asked if there are any specific rituals or techniques that are employed when harvesting the plant. She said that she was not entirely sure, but she does know that you are supposed to pick the root a certain way so as to not hurt the stillborn child. Through this belief, the idea that it is important to not harm the land and to respect it is emphasized once more.

It is bad luck for tourists to remove Hawaiian lava rocks from the islands

My informant has lived on the island of Hawaii his whole life.  He currently works at the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.  He first heard of the superstition when his parents would complain about the increasing amount of tourism to the island.  They would justify their discontent by acknowledging that all of the tourists who would return home with volcanic rock would be stricken with bad luck.

At the national park, my informant has been taught, and is expected to know, the details of the superstition.  Apparently, the volcanic goddess, Pele, curses visitors who return to their homelands with a lava rock.  At the national park, they frequently receive packages which contain lava rocks that people have taken and wish to return because of their bad luck.  They expect that by returning the rocks, their luck will change for the better.  The worst instance he has heard of was a man who was laid off of work and broke his leg in the same month.  He believes the superstition was created by native Hawaiians trying to discourage tourists from disturbing the landscape.  He has never left the island with a volcanic rock before, so he doesn’t have any firsthand experience with the curse.

In my opinion, the lava operates as an item the tourists can blame their misfortunes on.  Then, whenever something goes wrong, they think of the lava rock instead of brushing it off.  Then the tourists feel like they have to free themselves of the burden the rock has put them in.  Also, I have heard of how much the native Hawaiians hate tourists, so it’s likely this superstition was started to discourage tourist activity.  Also, this makes sense because tourism to Hawaii has only become popular in the last century.  To tie an ancient figure like Pele to a more modern practice makes it evident that the curse is not genuine and the native Hawaiians just don’t like tourists taking pieces of Hawaii home with them.

Korean Origin Myth

A spirit descended from the heavenly skies in search of a bride. If you feed animals garlic for a hundred days, they will transform into women. Thus, the spirit imprisoned a tiger and a bear in the Baik-Doo Mountain for a hundred days, feeding them garlic. However, the short-fused tiger escaped before the hundred days while the patient bear waited. The bear consequently transformed into a woman, and the spirit took her for his bride. They bore a son, the Dang-Goon, the creator of Korea. That is how the country of Korea came to be.


My informant first learned this myth in his elementary school in Daegu, Korea.  His teacher taught his class how Korea became what it was that day.  She started with this particular myth that explains how the great predecessor was divinely created – directly from a heavenly spirit and a bear turned into a woman.  The children believe the story completely, especially since Baik-Doo Mountain is an actual mountain.  Everyone in Korea is familiar with this myth; it is something that has been told from generation to the next.  It has become a vital part of the Korean tradition.

It is common for the Koreans to use animals in their narratives and give the animals characteristics.  Oftentimes, the tiger is portrayed as conniving, ravenous, and temperamental.  Therefore in this myth, the tiger cannot stand the hundred days and escapes.  The bear is usually portrayed as wise, slow and lazy, though.  The bear in the myth remains patiently.  Although this myth shows the bear in a positive aspect, in other Korean stories, the bear can represent stupidity and indolence.  I was not surprised to hear that the bear was the animal that waited long enough to become a woman.  In my opinion, Koreans have such a myth as this to reinforce the idea that their first king was not a mortal being but a direct descendent from a god.

How Red Hill (Bukit Merah) Got its Name

A long time ago, in the annals of Malayan history, when Singapore was merely a little sleepy fishing village, there was a bloody event that stained the soil of the (present day) Red Hill red with blood. In these early years, fish that had sharp, sword like mouths used to swim up to the shore and attack fishermen, making it unable for them to venture out and fish. Nobody had any idea what to do, the Sultan tried ordering soldiers to attack, but these attempts only made attacks more frequent and causing the soldiers themselves more harm than the fish.

Then one day, a young boy,  who lived on the hill came up with a solution. He advised the Sultan to use banana tree trunks as a wall to ward off the attacks, as the fishes mouth would get stuck in the tree and they can kill the fish more easily.  This plan worked very well, and the fish eventually stopped attacking.

However, the boy became a hero in the eyes of the villages and the Sultan became threatened by him, growing paranoid that the villagers might want this young boy to become the next ruler and overthrow him. His paranoia increased day by day, until one day, he ordered a small squad of his elite guards to assassinate the boy in his sleep. That night, the head of the this team took out his kris (wavy blade dagger) and stabbed the boy in the heart. Killing him instantly.

The blood that flowed out would not stop gushing out of the wound, this scared the soldiers and they ran away as fast as possible. This young boy’s blood coated the hill that he lived. None of the villagers knew who ordered the boy kill, but that it was a tragic event, and to commemorate this event, they called the hill Bukit Merah (Red Hill) to remember this boy by.

My informant was informed of this legend when he was a boy in Singapore during the 1990s. This was told to him by one of his older cousins at a family reunion, when they were watching a TV special on the origin of place names in Singapore. He suspected it was partially to scare the living daylights out of him, but nevertheless, it stuck. Because of the story though, he went to look up the actual reason what made the soil on that hill red, and it was because of the soil type on that hill tended to have a reddish hue to it.

Fishermen in rural villages are not the most rational or scientific of people, and the most likely reason for the name would be that as the soil, without any plants or crops growing on it would look like blood soaked soil to these uneducated villagers in the early part of the last millennium. Therefore naming the place, Red Hill or Bukit Merah.

There are many versions of this story. In some versions, like this one, the species of fish attacking the village is unknown, others name it as swordfish and some call it Gar fish. In another version of this story, the boy does not die and it the blood coming out was the blood of the earth from a homunculus which, a witch created to throw off the guards from actually killing the boy.

Why the rat is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac (为什么老鼠在十二生肖里排第一)

从前,玉皇大帝举行一个比赛来决定十二生肖的顺序排列, 那天早上谁先到皇宫就排那位。 每一个年会有一个不同的动物。消息宣布的时候,第一个听到的是老鼠。老鼠知道自己个子小,没机会用自己的体量来赢,所以他就想出一个能赢得办法。


一到皇宫前,老鼠就跳下牛的头, 成为第一个动物来到皇宫。牛果然不开心,但没别的办法,只能默默的接受第二位。

A long time ago, the Jade emperor decided to have a race to see who was going to be the twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. The first twelve who reached the Jade Emperor’s place would be the members of the Chinese zodiac in that order. The first person to hear about the news was the Rat. Since the Rat was small, he knew that there was no way he would win without outside help and began to formulate a plan.

On the day of the competition, he went to the house of the Bull, because firstly, most creatures were scared of the Bull and it wasn’t smart like the tiger, horse or dragon, who would know what it was thinking and the Bull lived nearest the Place. He asked the Bull, if he could hitch a ride to the palace and the Bull agreed. Since the Bull wasn’t the brightest of animals, he forgot that the rat was riding on his head halfway through the race.

Once at the palace, the rat jumped through the air and was the first animal to enter the palace and won the race. Naturally, the Bull was not pleased with this development, but he had no other choice than to accept his place at number two.


This was told to my informant during a Chinese New Year celebration when she was in primary school during the year of the Rat. It tends to be a story to tell children about the reasons behind the placements of the Chinese zodiac and why such a small animals is placed first. Like most legends, there are multiple versions floating around the world. Some are because the Rat defeated the elephant by going into its ear and other stories discuss the reasons why the Cat is not in the Chinese Zodiac

Unlike the western zodiac where it follows the signs in the sky, the Chinese zodiac rotates every twelve years with an animal representing each year. Each year is supposed to be prosperous for doing different things, luckier years for having children or getting married are the Dragon and Pig years. The Dragon because it is a symbol for intelligence and strength, while the Pig is a sign of wealth and prosperity in the Chinese culture. On the other hand, the rat is supposed to be a cunning and quick witted animal

This is an example also, to teach children that might does not always win, but the smart and the cunning usually end up on the top. Teaching children not to underestimate things because of their size, but evaluate carefully and not be rash.

Guan Yu and Hua Tuo (关羽和华佗)

在三国年代,关羽,一位蜀国将军在大战时候, 被一个沾满了毒的箭被射在左臂,无药可救。原因是关羽不限离开战场半步,毒已经流入骨头吸不出来。但那时都有一位神医, 名叫华佗。没其他办法,蜀国的将军请华佗来救关羽的一臂和一命。

华佗一看伤口就便告诉关羽必须开手术要开肉刮骨。华佗问他要不要把他麻醉一下。 关羽说他不怕痛,这样就可以开始了。

华佗来自前关羽跟一位官,马良, 下棋。动手术的时候,旁边的观众听到刀刮骨头的时候都受不了。但关羽不停的下棋,喝酒,有时候还笑, 好像不痛的样子。几分钟之后,刮完了。华佗就便缝关伤口,缝完了,关羽称华佗的医术无比,臂也不痛了。工作做完了,华佗就默默离开。

During the period of the Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu, a prominent general in the Shu army was poisoned by a poisoned arrow in his left arm during battle. The army doctors could find no way to treat it, in part due to the fact that Guan Yu refused to leave the battlefield and the poisoned had seeped into the bone. However, there was also a very famous physician that lived during that time by the name of Hua Tuo. Left with no other recourse, the other generals invited Hua Tuo to look at Guan Yu’s arm.

After examining his arm, Hua Tuo told Guan Yu that he needed to operate and asked if he needed or wanted to be anesthetized during this operation as it was very painful. The operation included scraping the poison off the bone and this was unbearable for most people. Guan Yu just laughed and told Hua Tuo to just go ahead because he was not scared of a little pain.

While this was going on, Guan Yu was playing chess with another official from the country of Shu by the name of Ma Liang. During the whole operation, not once did Guan Yu complain of the pain, even though everyone around him cringed at the sound of the knife scraping bone. Moments later, the operation was over and Guan Yu praised Hua Tuo’s skills, but Hua Tuo refused to accept any reward and left as suddenly as he came.


This story was told to my informant by his father when he was a young child growing up in China during the 1950s. According to my informant, this story is part of a very famous saga about a time of discord in history. However, he says that this particular legend is most likely not true because, while Guan Yu did receive an arm wound such as this, it was the right arm and not the left. Additionally, by the time this injury occurred, the doctor mentioned in this tale was killed twelve years prior due to the paranoia of the ruler of another kingdom.

The period that this is set in is very real. There were three countries that were warring over control of China after the Han dynasty. Guan Yu was part of the Kingdom of Shu and the other two countries were Wei and Wu. The stories of these times were eventually written down and compiled in a book called, Romance of the Three Kingdoms or 三国演义。

However, this story is still very interesting and is still passed down from generation to generation. Firstly, because it is an interesting story, but also to prove to toughness of the Chinese people and how wonderful Chinese medicine was before Hua Tuo was killed and all his works burnt. Hua Tuo was actually (after his death) known as the “God of Medicine” and his name is used to call brilliant doctors these days.


Annotation: Can be found in羅貫中. 三国演义 . China: 中华书局: 2005