In our 4th themed episode, we discuss an array of fortune, fate, and luck goddesses. We talk about the different ways fate and luck are viewed through different cultures, the common theme of groups of three, and a surprising amount of snakes!
We discuss Lakshmi from Hindu mythology, Tyche and the Fates from Greek mythology, the Norns from Norse mythology, the Ora from Albanian folklore, Dolya-Nedolya and Srecha-Nesrecha from Russian folklore, and Benzaiten from Japanese mythology.
The Fates (Moirai):
Zoe: Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts,
Lizzie: I'm Lizzie.
Zoe: And I'm Zoe. And today is January 4th, and it's our first episode of the new year. And we all want 2021 to be a better year than 2020. So, we at Mytholadies wanted to bring you some luck and good fortune for the new year by talking about a wide array of luck, fortune and fate goddesses. Lizzie, take it away.
Lizzie: So our first Goddess is Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, power, luxury, beauty, fertility and auspiciousness. She holds the promise of material fulfillment and contentment. She's also called Sri Lakshmi. The word Sri is spoken before addressing a god, a teacher, a holy man or any revered individual. The word evokes, amongst other things, grace, affluence, abundance, auspiciousness and authority.
Lizzie: Scholars are of the view that initially the words Sri and Lakshmi referred to anything that was auspicious or brought good luck or bestowed riches and power. Later, the two words were personified into two goddesses who eventually merged. Thus Sri Lakshmi, or just Lakshmi, came into being.
Zoe: That's super cool.
Lizzie: Yeah, so she's the wife of the god Vishnu. And they're often worship together as Lakshmi Narayana. Just as Vishnu has many avatars when he descends to Earth, Lakshmi can also take on different forms, including Sita from the Ramayana.
Zoe: Ah, yeah!
Lizzie: So, in terms of etymology, Lakshmi in Sanskrit is derived from the root word lakṣ, and lakṣa, meaning to perceive, observe, know understand; and goal, aim, objective, respectively. These roots give Lakshmi the symbolism to know and understand your goal. Lakshmi is often depicted as having four arms and hands. She wears red clothes with a golden lining and is standing on a lotus. She has golden coins and lotuses in her hands and two or four elephants stand next to her. The four arms represent the four directions in space and therefore represent Lakshmi's omnipotence. The red color symbolizes activity, the gold lining her clothing represents prosperity. So the idea here is that Lakshmi is always busy distributing wealth and prosperity to her devotees.
Lizzie: The two or four elephants standing beside her symbolize fame associated with worldly wealth. So this represents the idea that a true devotee of Lakshmi should not earn wealth merely to acquire fame and satisfy their own material desires, but also to share such happiness with others.
Zoe: That's super cool.
Lizzie: Yeah. So she is not only worshipped by Hindus, but also by Buddhists and Jains. Though Buddhism and Jainism turned away from Vedic rituals, and Brahmanical dogmas about 2500 years ago, they didn't abandon Lakshmi.
Lizzie: In the Buddhist Jataka Tales, which are a body of literature concerning the previous births of Gautama Buddha in both human and animal form, there are stories of people who request Lakshmi to drive away the goddess of misfortune, Kalakanni. And in addition to that, Kubera the god of wealth and treasurer of gods who's often associated with Lakshmi appears on a lot of Buddhist shrines. Also, symbols of wealth and royal power, commonly associated with Lakshmi are favorable to both Buddhists and Jains. These include the pot, a pile of gems, a throne, a flywhisk, a conch, a fish, a parasol, nagas, which are mythical serpent beings that protect the Buddha, and yakshas, who are nature spirits, and a footstool, a horse, an elephant, a cow and the wish fulfilling tree.
Lizzie: Yes. So Lakshmi is also worshipped every year on Diwali, the festival of lights that spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair, and which happens in October or November of every year. There are also a number of related goddesses. In China she is worshipped as Lahakximi; in Japan, the Japanese goddess of fortune and prosperity Kishijoten, which means auspicious heavens corresponds to Lakshmi having her roots in Hinduism. In Bali, she is known as Devi Shri, and she is regarded as an incarnation or one of her manifestations. And I think Lakshmi is very cool. And I think we have enough about her to go off of for a future episode. So stay tuned for that.
Zoe: Yeah, definitely.
Zoe: It sounds like she's super important. Like she's the wife of Vishnu who's like, the main god of Hinduism, as far as I'm aware, and she's present in so many other nearby cultures as well as in like—
Zoe: —India. So it sounds like she's really important.
Lizzie: Yes. So there we have her. She's associated with material things and prosperity. And she's a very important goddess in Hinduism.
Zoe: Yeah! So our next Goddess is Tyche, who is the Greek guardian deity who could determine the fortune of cities. So basically, she was in charge of the prosperity, luck and destiny of cities. Her heritage is a little debated. It's said in some places that she's the daughter of Aphrodite and either Zeus or Hermes. Or some others say that she's an oceanid and the daughter of Tethys.
Zoe: Yeah, I think that's interesting. She's also often associated with Nemesis who is the goddess of revenge. And I think that makes sense. I feel like luck and revenge—
Lizzie: Two sides of the same coin.
Zoe: Mm hmm. Especially in Ancient Greece.
Zoe: Yeah. Greek historian Polybius said that if there was a natural disaster that had no cause, such as a flood, drought, frost or even political upheaval, it could be blamed on the will of Tyche. During the Hellenistic period, cities often worshiped Tychai, which was a specific iconic version of Tyche to the city. So basically, like a lot of different cities had a specific icon manifestation of Tyche that they would worship and you bring offerings to in order to ensure the prosperity of that city. And this practice actually continued into the Roman Empire, and including into the Christian period of the Roman Empire. So she was quite like very present, in those cultures, and her influence was pretty widespread.
Zoe: Yeah. And so there were very many magnificent temples built to her, including in Alexandria in Egypt, and she was depicted on many coins during the Hellenistic era, which I think makes sense to put the goddess of luck on your coins.
Zoe: And she served as the driving plot force behind many Hellenistic romances. So basically, like the unpredictable fortune would drive like the plots of romances and cause things to happen, so she was actually pretty well respected. She's even so well respected that a lot of philosophers in Ancient Greece respected her— she was reviled by poets as a quote "fickle harlot", which I think is really just poets being poets and, you know, being angsty and stuff but like.
Zoe: The worship of her often spiked during times of chaos and uncertainty. And to talk more about that I have a quote from Greek historian Stylianos Spyridacis, who said "in the turbulent years of the epigone of Alexander an awareness of the instability of human affairs led people to believe that Tyche, the blind mistress of fortune, governed mankind with an inconstancy which explained the vicissitudes of the time," so like, I think, basically, you know, when things were really chaotic, they were like, "hey, give me some good luck", you know, like, I need it, you know. And, basically, I think that, it also shows that, you know, in ancient Greece, it was a very chaotic time. There were a lot of wars, a lot of political upheaval, some diseases, they basically were like, luck is really crazy. She's all over the place, and we have no idea what's going to happen ever. So it's good to get her favor if we can.
Zoe: So she's depicted wearing a mural crown, which is a crown that represents cities, and she carries a cornucopia, a ship's rudder, and a wheel of fortune. And sometimes she actually is standing on the wheel of fortune, which represents her mastery of it. And then so we go on to Fortuna, which is the Roman form of Tyche. Her name likely comes from Vortumna, which means "she who revolves the year," and she's generally considered Jupiter's daughter. She's celebrated on June 11, and June 24, which is the feast of Fors Fortuna. And she's often depicted as veiled and blindfolded, like Lady Justice but without the scale so basically super random, there's no balance to luck.
Zoe: Yeah. Her identity and actions were associated with virtus or strength of character. So basically, those with ill virtues were destined for ill fortune in the eyes of people in the Roman Empire. There were many cults to her throughout the Roman Empire, including an Oracle at the temple of Fortuna Primigena in Praeneste and that was basically a small boy who picked up fortunes written on oak rods.
Zoe: That was how she determined your fortune. And all the cults were dedicated to different aspects of fortune. So for example, there was Fortuna Dubia, which is doubtful fortune, Fortuna Brevis, fickle fortune, and Fortunate Mala, which is bad fortune. And like on the Wikipedia page, there's a whole list there's like 30 different like aspects that- of her that were known to have been worshipped. So basically, there's like good harvest fortune and like things like that. So people like came to her for all sorts of different types of luck, and she is associated with many other gods including the Egyptian Isis, Bonus Eventus, who's who is a male god of agriculture, and Mater Matuta, who is an indigenous Latin goddess, and the worship and interest in Fortuna continued throughout the Middle Ages, particularly through depictions of cornucopias and the wheel of fortune. So much so that St. Agustin talks about how people shouldn't worship her because she's not as great as God basically.
Lizzie: Wow, okay.
Zoe: She was influential and multiple pieces of medieval literature, including Dante's Inferno. But in these depictions, she was not depicted as autonomous in power, but as a servant of God. So basically they were christianizing her.
Lizzie: I see.
Zoe: And finally she's even mentioned and Machiavelli's The Prince where he reminded everyone that fortune is a woman, and therefore she favors a strong ambitious hand and the more aggressive and bold young man than a timid elder.
Lizzie: All right.
Lizzie: That's nice. [Zoe laughs] So, also from Ancient Greece, we have the Fates, also known as Moirai, who were the Ancient Greek goddesses of fate who personified the inescapable destiny of man. So, they assigned to every person their fate or share in the scheme of things. And their name means "Parts." "Shares" or "Allotted Portions." There are three of them, their names are Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. So, Clotho is "the Spinner," who spun the thread of life; Lachesis is "the Apportioner of Lots" who measured it; and Atropos, also known as Aisa, is "the Inflexible One" who cut it short. So, the Fates were the distributers of good and bad fortune to men and to nations. They assigned to each man at birth his alotted portion of life. When the portion expired, they cut the thread of life. As such, they were sometimes described as goddesses of death, attendant upon the throne of Hades. The Moirai were described as ugly, old women who were severe, inflexible and stern. Clotho carries a spindle or a roll, Lachesis a staff with which she points to the horoscope on a globe, and Atropos a scroll, a wax tablet, a sundial, a pair of scales, or a cutting instrument.
Lizzie: But other times, the three were shown with staffs or scepters, or sometimes even crowns. At the birth of each man they appeared spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of life. The Romans’ name for the goddesses was Parcae and the names of the individuals were Nona, Decuma and Morta.
Zoe: Okay. It's interesting, because that sounds like Atropos was a lot more associated with death in Ancient Rome.
Lizzie: Yes, especially by the name.
Zoe: Yeah, mm hmm. From my very limited knowledge of Latin.
Lizzie: I feel like we can assume that "Morta" means death, I feel like.
Zoe: Yeah, mm hmm. I feel like we can assume that.
Lizzie: So, like Tyche, their parentage is disputed. According to Hesiod's Theogony, their parents were Zeus and Themis, the titaness of divine law and order. According to Cicero, their parents were Erebus, the god of darkness, and Nyx, goddess of the night. And according to Lycophron, their parents are Cronos and Nyx, or, according to Plato's Republic, their mother was Ananke, the primordial goddess of necessity, compulsion, and inevitability. So, fate according to the Ancient Greeks was not as some have thought, inflexible, to which the gods themselves must bow, but, on the contrary, Zeus, as the father of gods and men, can, if he chooses, save those even those who are already on the point of death.
Lizzie: The Fates presided over the cyclical descent of Persephone into the underworld, and her springtime return. Her passing heralded the revolution of the seasons and symbolized the birth and death of all life on earth. So you can see the association there.
Zoe: Oh, yeah. Mm hmm.
Lizzie: They were also present at the birth of gods to declare their divine privileges and functions. Which I thought was interesting.
Zoe: Yeah, that's super interesting.
Lizzie: They also made declarations on the assignment of countries and nations to the gods. They also had a hand in founding the Olympic Games, So, the Olympic Games were founded by Hercules, and it says that, “in that birthday hour the Moirai stood by this new-established rite to consecrate it.”
Zoe: Okay. Yeah, that's cool.
Lizzie: So, they were also sometimes regarded as the sources of prophecies, however, this role was more often assigned to Apollo.
Zoe: Yeah, mm hmm.
Lizzie: So, murder was a crime performed in defiance of the decrees of fate. The Erinyes, acting as—
Lizzie: Yeah! And so, basically if you killed someone, the Erinyes would act as agents of the Moirai and they would kill you.
Zoe: Okay, well, that's really interesting.
Lizzie: In addition to that—
Zoe: So no one's fated to be murdered.
Lizzie: Yeah. I would say that's a good analysis. And, in addition to that, suicide is also described as a breech of fate by at least one Roman writer.
Lizzie: Also, they were the attributed inventors of certain letters of the alphabet. So—
Lizzie: Yes, presumably these had certain mystical values connected with prophecy and fate. So, my source told me that these letters are A, B, H, T, I, and U; however, these are Latin letters, so my guess is that they correspond to alpha, beta, eta, tau, iota, and upsilon.
Lizzie: But a Greek person could correct me, but that's what I think. And that's the Fates!
Zoe: Yeah! Do you know why they invented letters? Just for fun?
Lizzie: I guess it's just... like, they sort of imbued the letters with like, fortune, and like, you know?
Zoe: Okay. Mm hmm.
Lizzie: But they had sort of like mystical values associated with them.
Zoe: Yeah. I guess so, yeah. Well, that's really interesting.
Lizzie: It's interesting that they invented some letters but not others.
Zoe: Yeah. And it's interesting that like, the Fates are the ones who make the letters, and so like, there's something divine or like really powerful about writing.
Zoe: Like, the act of writing something down.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: And I think that's super interesting when it comes to like, the role of like histories and like epics in Ancient Greece.
Lizzie: Yeah, and sort of their destinies.
Zoe: Yeah, for sure. And like the power that those hold. So that's very interesting.
Zoe: Yeah. Alright, so very similar to the Fates going way far north, we have the Norns. So the Norns are Norse beings that have dominion over the destiny of gods and humans. According to Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prose Edda, there are three main Norns. Their names are Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld. These three Norns use water from the Well of Fate, and sand from around the Well, to pour over Yggdrasil, the World Tree and the base of the Nordic mythological world. This ensures that the branches and roots of the tree will not rot, and the world will not fall apart. Basically. They're believed to be Jotun maidens who appeared in order to end the golden age of the gods, but also appeared for the good of mankind. So I thought that was really interesting.
Zoe: And I think that makes sense. Because unlike a lot of different mythologies, in Norse mythology, gods are not immortal, they can die and they do die. And the reason why they last for so long, is because they eat apples that basically restore their youth. And so it makes sense that they would also be subject to the Norns in that way, and that would end their, you know, Golden Age, because they can die. And so the Norns, since the Norns are in charge of determining fate, would have that power over them.
Lizzie: So can the Norns die?
Zoe: Unclear. [laughs]
Zoe: Yeah. So in D'aulaire's Book of Norse Myths, a classic—
Lizzie: It is a classic.
Zoe: Yes, influential.
Zoe: It says the Norns generally weave gray thread for someone's life. But sometimes if it's an artist or a poet, the thread is red. And sometimes if it's a king or a hero, the thread is pure gold. I thought that was nice.
Zoe: Some quick etymology. A few sources for the name Norn. The first theory is that it comes from the word meaning to twine, which represents the literal thread of fate that a historian, theorist, scholar named Bek Pederson has a theory that it comes from the Swedish word norna, or nyrna, which means "to secretly communicate." And that refers to the shadowy role that the Norns play in many stories, which I thought was fun.
Lizzie: That is fun.
Zoe: So for the names of the Norns, the name "Urðr" is a cognate with the old English word wyrd, which needs fate. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that they mean the same thing. Both Urðr and Verðandi come from the Old Norse verb, verða, which means "to become." It's believed that Urðr is derived from the past tense, which means that which became or happened. While Verðandi is present tense, and means that which is happening.
Zoe: Then at the end, "Skuld" comes from the Old Norse verb skulu, which means "need" "ought to be" or "shall be." And therefore, Skuld means "that which shall become needs to occur." So it's believed that these meanings imply some association with past, present or future, but also this is debated, because some people believe that these words don't actually have a super like chronological association in Old Norse. I think it's interesting.
Lizzie: I can see that, Skuld, because it sounds like skulle in Norwegian.
Zoe: Yeah, I mean, I definitely saw that.
Lizzie: Which means— Yeah. 'Cause that's like "shall."
Zoe: Yeah. Also, these are the three main Norns, but there's actually many other Norns that are present in literature and beliefs.
Lizzie: So there's more than three?
Zoe: Yeah, there's more than three.
Zoe: So they may appear at someone's birth in order to decide their future or death. And they can be either malevolent or benevolent, you know, causing good or bad events in people's lives. They're referred to in many forms of Old Norse literature, and they're often used interchangeably with other female goddesses such as valkyries and jotuns. And also other spirits, such as Hamingja and Fylgja, which are like, various types of protector spirit. And so for example, particularly Skuld is actually referred to as a Valkyrie in the Prose Edda. So.
Zoe: They're basically kind of used interchangeably. Some examples of this in Skaldic poetry, they refer to both as bringers of death, but also in a legalistic role. Poets- Skaldic poets often use legalistic language to reference the judgment of the Norns. So they bring death, but it's sort of like, you know, they're like, the judges in like a courtroom declaring death.
Lizzie: I see. Interesting.
Zoe: Yeah, then in Eddic poetry including the poetic Eddas, they often cite characters, blaming the Norns for their bad fortune, and it's generally discussing the cruelty of the Norns.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: Then they're also mentioned in the Prose Edda. As I said before, the Prose Edda generally sets up their role, who they are and what they do in like the Norse mythological world, which is mainly what the Prose Edda is in general. They also show up a lot in the sagas Basically they show up as harbingers of fate. So a primary example that I know of is in Gisla Saga, which is a saga of a man named Gisli Sursson, who's outlawed after killing his brother in law. During his 13 years of living as an outlaw, he's haunted by dreams of women who pour blood and go around him and tell him how many years he has left to live.
Zoe: And yeah, yeah, it's all the Norn, like, appearances in the saga are really gnarly, so just a warning. Yeah, so it's believed that those are like the Norns- manifestations of the Norns. And then in Njal’s Saga, near the end of the saga, there's an episode recounting the Battle of Clontarf, which is a battle between an Irish King, King Brian, and the invading Viking rulers. And this battle is very important, because it's seen as the end of the Great Viking Age, the Irish beat the Vikings, and that sort of stops or slows down Viking conquests in Ireland. And so during the battle, a man in Scotland has a vision of a group of women weaving a bloody womb with guts as the strings of skulls shuttle and also some really nasty stuff. It's gross. Anyway. And so that symbolizes the end of like, the fates of the Vikings in the battle, and probably also the death of paganism, because the Irish are Christian and the Vikings are pagans, and you know, all that stuff.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: So, some people believe that the Norns are inspired by Ancient Germanic Matres and Matrones, whose depictions on votive objects inspired much later depictions of Germanic goddesses. And also, so it's believed by some scholars, but there's no actual evidence for there just being three main Norns. And that was just a result of later Greek and Roman influence like the Fates.
Zoe: So that's in general, it's thought maybe they're just a bunch of like, spirit like female goddesses, spirits that go out and like, are around humans and there's not like three main ladies.
Zoe: So, yeah. Those are the Norns.
Lizzie: Yeah, they reminded be a little bit of my next lady, which are the Ora, who are northern Albanian goddesses of fate. So, along with the Ora, there are also the Zana and then in southern Albania, the Fatia, Mirai, and Vitore. So it was believed that there were as many Ora as there were humans, for each person has his own Ora who's given to him at birth as a sort of guardian angel. The nature of each Ora is suited to the individual to whom she belongs. Even her appearance matches that person's character. Within Albanian folklore, the role of the Ora tends to differ. The Ora are often described as good mythological figures that offer their protection help, but in several tales are depicted as negative and dangerous creatures. Within Albania, people believe the Ora would protect them while other people believe that they were dangerous creatures with evil purposes.
Lizzie: They can be compared to the ancient Greek Fates, the Nordic Norns and the Lithuanian Laima. So these are goddesses of birth not only because they attend to the birth of each human being and foretell their future, but also because they organize the appearance of all humankind. These cosmological and anthropological activities are analogous and parallel and their divine status can no longer be identified with the image of the good fairy or fairytale theme. According to a source that I have. They appear among the ranks of the earliest generation of gods who as in Scandinavian and Greek mythology are contemporaries of the race of giants.
Lizzie: So, the inhabitants of the Dukagjini Mountains distinguish three categories of fates. So e Bardha, "the White one" who brings good luck and wishes humans well, e Verdha, "the Yellow One," who brings bad luck and casts evil spells and e Zeza, "the Black One," who deals out death.
Lizzie: So, when determining the baby's destiny, the many Ora congregate in the night to distribute their favors. The principal Ora, who is beautiful with eyes that shine like precious stones, presides from atop a big rock over the meeting of the 300 Ora. Their faces change according to the degree of happiness they allot to the new baby if they reprimand someone it means that they have already cut the thread of the person's happiness or life. Today, such a person is still called or-prem, or "by the Ora cut."
Lizzie: Also, they can appear as serpents!
Lizzie: So, Albert Doja, who is the source that I'm getting a lot of is from, said “beliefs about protecting serpents, whether it is Ora, Vitore, or the 'house snake' are found throughout the Albanian culture zone. Many Albanians believe that one must not disturb a snake even when one finds it in the baby's cradle, because it is the ora that belongs to the house and the baby.” So basically, Ora aren't inherently good or bad, but can arouse ambivalent feelings that can be either loved or hated or be desired or feared.
Zoe: Do you know what this reminds me of?
Zoe: Sleeping Beauty.
Lizzie: Interesting, how so?
Zoe: So, a little bit earlier when you were talking about how when a baby's born all the Ora assemble and determine the fate and cast their favors. And that reminds me of the beginning of Sleeping Beauty when all the fairies are there and they're like, we're gonna cast our favorites and give her like these good things. And then of course, the evil fairy comes in is like, nope, she She's going to sleep for hundreds of years.
Lizzie: Yeah, no, I totally get that. I see where your- where your head is.
Zoe: And so I thought, Yeah, I think that's really interesting. I really like like the sort of fairy-ish aspect of these a lot. I think that's really fun.
Lizzie: Yeah, for sure.
Zoe: So, the Ora really remind me of these Slavic goddesses of fate that I found some information on. And so the first one is named Dolya. And she represents fate bestowed on man at birth and assigned to a specific person. She is described as a plainly dressed woman who can shapeshift.
Zoe: Yeah, so as she's in her positive aspect, she is Dolya. But when she's in her negative aspect, she is Nedolya.
Zoe: So Dolya protects the man she's assigned to, preserving his health and wealth, offspring and property, assuming she does the same for a woman but, you know, this is what the source said. Anyway. However, Nedolya neglects her assignments and thinks only of herself and basically bad things happen to her assignment,
Lizzie: So, does everyone have like both the positive and negative one?
Zoe: So I think you have a Dolya assigned to you. And it basically depends on who's assigned to you whether or not it's negative or positive.
Lizzie: Oh, okay.
Zoe: So basically, it's saying like either you get good stuff or you get bad stuff. Regardless, it's impossible to get rid of Dolya, the fate is inevitable, basically.
Lizzie: Wow. Okay.
Zoe: Then another lady I learned some about is Srecha, who is basically the South Slavic form of Dolya, so Dolya is found more in the east. And Srecha is found more in the South and she's more representative of fortune or luck rather than fate. And so a man could get rid of Srecha but not Dolya.
Zoe: Srecha in her positive aspect is depicted as a beautiful woman spinning a golden thread. However, in her negative aspect, she's known as Nesrecha. And she's depicted as an old woman with bloodshot eyes. And so basically it's the same thing. In her positive aspects, she brings good luck and fortune to the person she's assigned to, but in her negative aspect, she brings bad luck, but you can get rid of the negative spirits of Nesrecha. Unlike Nedolya who's stuck with you no matter what. And I thought they were really interesting.
Lizzie: Yes, sounds very similar to the Ora. So to close off our episode, we have our last lady who is known as Benzaiten or Benten. So, in Japanese mythology, there are seven gods of fortune, also known as the Fukujin, believes to grant good luck. These deities have their origins in ancient gods of fortune from Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism and only one of these Fukujin, Ebisu, actually has a Japanese origin.
Lizzie: Yeah, so the Fukujin were originally worshipped separately, but in about 1420, they started to be worshipped as a group. Six out of seven of these gods are male, but one is female and she is known as Benzaiten.
Lizzie: Or Benten. Her origin is found in Hinduism from the goddess Saraswati, who is a Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom and learning. So her worship came to Japan during the sixth through the eighth century, via the Chinese translation of the Sutra of Golden Light, which is a Buddhist text that has a section devoted to Saraswati.
Lizzie: Because the Sutra of Golden Light promised protection of the state, in Japan she became a protector deity at first of the state and then of people. Later, she became one of the seven gods of fortune.
Zoe: All right, so she sounds a little like Tyche.
Lizzie: Oh, yeah.
Zoe: In that she's associated more with like the state that rather specific people's fortune like protection of the cities.
Lizzie: Yeah, for sure. She's also a water goddess associated with fertility, and language and poetry, music and dance. She often appears with a snake in her headdress and dragons and snakes are her messengers and avatars and she herself can appear as a white snake.
Zoe: Oh, super cool.
Lizzie: Yeah, and similar to the Ora, Shinto priests and practitioners will often try to avoid harming a snake if they have come across one in daily life. In fact, encountering a live snake is considered an extremely lucky omen, while encountering a dead one is considered a sign of misfortunes to come.
Lizzie: So then we have an association with snakes and fortune, which is super interesting.
Zoe: That is super interesting because snakes are not considered lucky and a lot of places.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. So, today, Benzaiten is usually depicted as a heavenly woman crowned with a white serpent, playing the biwa, which is a Japanese lute-like instrument to represent her mastery of the arts.
Lizzie: Her primary attributes are compassion and amiability. And as such, jealous women often pray to her in order to ease their envy.
Zoe: That's really nice.
Lizzie: Yeah, so her shrines are often located near bodies of water, and many of them are still active today. So Benzaiten's main ritual, the annual Lotus Festival still takes place at her temple in Chikubushima in mid-summer and dates back to Japan's Medieval period when Shinto priests would have prayed to her for rain and a bountiful harvest. Benzaiten is also frequently worshiped on New Year's Eve. Because according to legend, the seven gods of Fortune embark together on their Takarabune, which is a treasure ship, and they bring happiness to everyone.
Lizzie: Yeah. So on New Year's, Japanese tradition tells children to put under their pillow a picture of the Seven Gods of Fortune aboard their treasure ship, or a picture of the mythological Baku who was the eater of nightmares. And then a lucky dream means luck for the whole year, but only if the dreamer does not tell anyone about their dream. If so, the dream will lose its power.
Lizzie: So that's Benzaiten.
Zoe: That's so nice. I really like that.
Lizzie: Isn't that nice?
Lizzie: Nice little New Year tradition.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. So what I thought was really interesting listening to all these goddesses is when goddesses of luck were viewed as positive versus negative versus ambivalent.
Zoe: So like, for example, Benzaiten seems to be like a really positive—
Zoe: —person, like—
Lizzie: She really does.
Zoe: I thought, you know, like, I felt really warm listening to you talk about her.
Zoe: And also like, um, you know, other goddesses were like, worshipped and like, you know, venerated a lot. Like, for example, Lakshmi seems to be quite well worshipped and venerated. Also, Tyche, and Fortuna had a lot of cults and temples dedicated to them. However, on the other hand, it seemed like the Norns and the Fates often really got a bad rap.
Lizzie: Exactly. Yeah. And it's interesting how they were like groups of three among those ones. And they were quite similar.
Lizzie: Like assigning your fate at birth, cutting the thread, like—
Lizzie: This sort of thing.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. And I do think it's interesting, the possibility of the Norns being influenced by the fates in that way.
Zoe: And so one of the things I looked at, so, I mentioned in the, when I was talking about the Norns, that it's possible they were influenced by the Ancient Germanic Matres and Matrones, I looked a little into them. They're basically like, older goddesses that were always depicted in threes.
Zoe: And so I'm wondering if that's like, where the influence comes from, or at least like, you know, possibly for the Norns, where the threes are? I don't know about, like, for the Ora, or the, or the Fates, but like,
Lizzie: Well, for the Ora, they, they came in groups of three sort of, just, yeah.
Zoe: I don't know if that was the Germanic influence as much, but—
Lizzie: It could be because they were also related to the Norns. And the Fates.
Zoe: Yeah, for sure. And then, um, it seems like there is a lot of question about how you can if you can escape fate or not, like, you know, the inevitability of fate?
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: And I thought that was very interesting.
Lizzie: For sure.
Zoe: What you said about like in ancient Greece, about how gods can change fate was very cool. And like, how if you murder someone that's like changing fate that's going against what the fates want, like it's not something—
Lizzie: And then you'll be punished.
Zoe: Yeah. Like, you'll be punished for it. But it's still like changing, you still have that power.
Lizzie: Yeah, like in Ancient Greece, and in like Ancient Scandinavia, where like the Viking Age and everything, it seems like quite a grim landscape. So it kind of makes sense that their fate goddesses would be sort of more negative.
Zoe: Yeah. And however, though, it seems like the ancient Norse had a different view of luck as a lot of the rest of Europe, which I read a bit about in the article you sent me, which is "The Norse Concept of Luck" by Bettina Sejbjerg Sommer. And basically, it said that in a lot of Western Europe, as I said, the ideas of luck generally view it as fickle or unpredictable. So like the depiction of Fortuna is blindfolded. But without scales, like she doesn't see what she's doing. And she's just going all over the place. There's no balance. However, in Norse myths, luck is often considered something inherent in a man or his lineage, it's possessed by people in different measures. And if you have less luck than someone, you're powerless against them, and you can't really find luck or earn luck, but you can lose your luck.
Zoe: And so, since luck serves as an inherent quality, it's a judgment of character. And it's generally seen to, you have to have luck in order to be seen as an ideal figure, which I believe is sort of similar in a way to the Roman view of luck, which is that those with greater morals have greater luck. But there's actually some examples where that's challenged, where if you don't have luck, you can still be seen as an ideal figure. And that's seen in the outlaw sagas, which are the sagas, of Gisli Sursson, who I talked about earlier, and also Grettir Asmundarson. And since they're outlaws, obviously, they have bad luck, because they're outlaws.
Zoe: And that's like the worst state basically it means you're completely rejected from society, anyone can and should kill you. [Lizzie laughs] They have a chance, and they will not get any punishment for it. In fact, they'll probably get rewarded for it.
Zoe: And so even though these people are outlaws, they're shown to have the qualities of heroes that are often lacking in the society that they're outlawed from. And so for example, Gisli is referred to as the bravest of men, but it also says he lacked in luck and he also is one of the greatest last stands of all time and when it comes to Vikings and Icelandic sagas, how you die is really important because like if you think about it, how you die determines where you end up like, you end up in Valhalla versus Hel. And he dies fighting, he's going to Valhalla. And then therefore also Grettir is cursed by a demon named Glam. And basically, that sort of leads to his downfall, his outlaw, because he spent like 35 years being outlawed, which is crazy. And he's still admired and considered a very brave man, despite all his negative characteristics.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: Even so, their "successes," which are in quotes, because like, hard to imagine their lives with successes, they're kind of miserable. [Lizzie laughs] are considered anomalies or wonders by the saga writers who note that their lack of luck is unusual. So it's really unusual that these men were so unlucky, and yet still really had such extraordinary lives. And were such extraordinary great fighters, individualists, like people who are able to survive really well for such a long time. And so then, of course, those sagas also have the question of whether or not fate is flexible or not. So if the question is if you're born with bad luck, then are you fated to have all these things happen to you? Or is it like a personal failing? Or is it not a personal failing specifically, like if you do bad things and end up getting outlawed? Is that a personal failing? Or is it not a personal failing? Because you just had bad luck? You were just born with it and—
Lizzie: So you can just blame it on? Yeah,
Zoe: You know, is it all outside of your control? What were you gonna do you know, like,
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: So my question for you, is, do you believe in fate?
Lizzie: Um, well, I want to say no. [laughs] But that is not very on theme for the episode. What about you?
Zoe: Um, I should have thought of my answer before I asked this. Oops. [both laugh] So I think sometimes I like to see like, some things really happen, be like, something's happened for a reason. But I don't think that there's one specific destiny that I'm working towards.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: And then also like these ideas of like, fixed destiny really remind me of like the Calvinist views of predestination, which are like you're born, either you're born as like God's chosen elect or not. And there's nothing you can do about it.
Lizzie: It reminded me of like, if you know that little philosophical debate about if free will is determined or not.
Zoe: Yeah, Mm hmm. So like, if you know if we have fate, do we have free will?
Lizzie: So true.
Zoe: So anyways, Happy New Year, everyone! [both laugh]
Lizzie: Have a good 2021 with these fortune goddesses!
Zoe: Yeah, and all these great big questions that we asked you, and thanks to you for listening. If you enjoyed please like, subscribe and tell your friends about it. Leave a review, and we'll be here next week with another episode. Thank you!
Lizzie: Thank you!
Zoe: Bye bye.
Lizzie: Mytholadies Podcast is produced, researched, and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @ mytholadies and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening! See you next week!