Today’s writing exercise is a little convoluted and rooted in creativity. I was struck, somewhat recently, by the idea of lands inhabited by minotaurs, what sort of creatures they’d be based on their terrains and environments… Like snow minotaurs, desert/sand minotaurs, etc. And it’s a welcome thought, mostly because it’s different to the things I’ve been thinking about exclusively for the last few days (some Dogs and a cat).
And, I had to do some research, since what do I know about minotaurs?
Well, apparently, the idea of them being “stand-alone” demons isn’t new, per se, though, as you might guess “Minotaur” refers to a very specific anthropomorph – the man-eater at the center of the Labyrinth (“bull of Minos”). 20th century sci-fi literature has brought Minotaurs into the light as their own separate species of demons, perhaps similar to what I thought of.
However, unsurprisingly, there are several instances of “horned gods” in mythology, not to mention famous bulls (or oxen) who were their own symbols. Some Indus Valley scholars are trying real hard to prove that a “horned man seated in the yoga position” is an early (the earliest!) depiction of Shiva. I can’t say if it is or isn’t, but also well-known from that same region (albeit later) is Nandi, Shiva’s bull and mount. A name that etymology theorists theorize derive from “pandi,” the Tamil word for “bull.” Namesake, also, probably, of the Pandyan dynasty and people, (Tamils), who also claim that Shiva and his wife, Parvati, ruled their country ~3,ooo BCE and founded their capital, Madhurapuram (“Sacred Dew Town”), now known as Madurai.
I know a little about that already, having studied the Pandyans as possible inventors of steel. Well, not that they invented it, but the fictional charcoal people I’m developing will show that they had the technology and capacity as early as ~3oo-2oo BCE. Naturally, these people have refined the techniques and then live on in fictional mythological history, which is a genre I am inventing.
That kinda isn’t relevant to the point. If you’ve ever heard of an auroch, it’s likely that this bovine-beast is responsible for most, if not all, of the early bull and cow worship. These animals probably weren’t domesticated easily, as they’re more buffalo-like, and because of that, their strength and “wild” nature were probably revered for the same reasons. Naturally, the cow had a lovely link to grain, since pasturing ties into seasons, which is important for livestock-rearing, which only means that fertility would’ve been there, too.
Usually that’s a job for a goddess, but no, there are a lot of counterpart gods that also invoke fertility. It was an important enough task for two, which in its own right, is a nice show (symbol) of the spiritual joining of man and woman.
The Ancient Egyptians had a few cults based on bulls, Apis being the most prominently known. In short, an intermediary between man and Ptah, the Egyptian god of creation and craftsmen (and more!). The Mnevis cult was the same, but for Ra, and last, and maybe the oldest, cult of Bakh, the embodiment of “Ka” the word for life-force or power and friend to the war god, Montu.
If you’ve heard of Çatalhöyük, the Anatolians there created several story-telling reliefs of the oxen, Seri and Hurri, or Day and Night, who carried the weather god, Teshub, on their shoulders.
And the list goes on…, none of these are “bull-men” in their own right, but these early origin stories of lasting properties of “noble” human nature stole the imagination for a great many people. China and Japan have “Ox-Head” (or Gozu in Japan), a man with an ox head who helps escort the dead to the underworld with his partner, “Horse-Face” (Mezu). You can’t make that stuff up. The Philippines have the Sarangay, giant, strong, bull men who guard jewelry, usually earrings. To some degree, even Beezlebub (as a form/incarnation/loan/bastardization of one of the “Ba’al”s) is a part of this list. I liked the idea that he was the causer/curer of plagues and pestilence, as it’s a mirrored idea of an Indian goddess, too. The feudalistic Japanese were terrorized by bull-demons, usually along the Western coasts.
But, the research (and the notes!) are only important for inspiration. When I read what I had written as the idea (“what about them?”), I had the idea of the same thing, but for lions.
Now everyone knows a Justin Lehman loves lions, so it was only natural that I have this thought. Well, I love all feral cats, but I consider “true” lions to be those who wear the mane. To me, you define the family by the coolest parts of it, so if you’re listening, Science, it’s various species of lion.
Anyway, since the lion is the natural predator of the cow, it only makes sense to have them be featured.
In the obvious writer’s trick of role-reversal, the taurus demons will be huge things, some peaceful (embodying some principle to study) and the great lions will be tiny (by comparison) and their prey. Maybe, or their mortal enemies, at least.
But, then, since I was looking up bull demons and such, I had thought, “Well, what about lion demons?”
I forget how I went about searching for that, but unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of worldly fascination with the lion, too. Why? Probably because, once, it had a much wider range than it used to. Closest to home is the Nemean Lion, a giant beast of legend that Herakles (Hercules) slew as the first of his 12 Tasks of Destiny. This same beast’s hide couldn’t be pierced or bruised by weapons, so Herakles had to grapple and wrestle, probably illustrating the importance of unarmed combat in early (and young) soldiers. Naturally, a hide that valuable had to be taken as a trophy and it became the trademark cape/tunic of our hero. (The Nemeios Lion then became the constellation Leo.)
…In the same region(-ish), we have the Scythian Gryps, which is the root-term for gryphons, then griffins. These beings are easy to identify, they have the body of a lion and the face and wings of an eagle. So, flying lions with terrible claws that also have the ability to peck your eyes out, a primeval fear we all have. Yes, we do! These beasts were created to explain something, though they became the guardians of gold ore deposits in Europe and India, depending where you heard the story.
At the highest peaks of the loftiest mountains, of course, is where the gold was, so a tribe of cyclops on flying horses fought them over it. Part of the wondrous series of literature told throughout the world (and time!) of why gold is so important and rare. I had the thought, “What could gold be used for, if not for money?” And it’s a good question. If I take out humans and just write about these (and other) animals, what could gold be for? I suppose once, it was a symbol, not just of wealth, but of authority and connection to the divine.
In a land inhabited by giant demons, maybe that’s something you’d want. Either way, in that same region of the world, in Greece, another lion myth, the Sphinx, aka Phix, “the Strangler.” Yes, probably adopted from the Egyptian (known to them as “Ethiopia”?) version, whose statues had probably been seen and reported by wide-eyed travelers. But this is where the Sphinx gets its riddle from, the Greek version, which is the female form. Lion’s body, eagle wings, woman’s face and chest. She was created as a punishment to torture Thebes and ate up all the youth who couldn’t answer the riddle she gave.
The Egyptian Sphinx is the wingless form of this, and is usually found guarding (or welcoming pilgrims) to what used to be very holy places.
This is where “bar trivia” originated, if you’re interested. The ancient Egyptians were much more tech-saavy then. The mechanical Sphinx that guarded the way would ask the “Question of the Day” and if you got it right, you drank for free during the ceremony. So many people were confusing the Sphinx with illogical answers they had to replace it with silent stone. (That’s a lie.)
The Indians have a Ketea, which isn’t a lion demon, really. It does show their early and constant love of fish and fishing in that the Ketea is a half-fish, half-whatever-animal, the fish probably being the top. I would suppose that the ferocious ones were the things that pulled fisherman to their deaths and the pleasant ones were responsible for helping a good haul. Perhaps the origin of the “Hippocampus,” or whatever, the half-fish, half-horse. (< an early spotting of a manatee?)
In Bali, Indonesia, they celebrate Barong, who is sometimes a lion. It’s the embodiment of good, though, and eternally fights Rangda, who is the evil one. There’s a famous dance that tells this story and if you see one spiritually moving theatrical “good and evil” dance this year, it should be the Barong dance.
And then, just ‘cuz we’re learning today, and my hour’s up, I’ll go ahead and tell you that the unicorn is from India, from the early Indus. So there, it may not be a mythological creature, either, since Lewis Carroll proved its existence by meeting one. He forced it to exist with the famous quote (by the unicorn, mind you) “Now that we have seen each other, if you believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”
PS: The point of this was to show that there already existed minotaurs of all kinds for various environs, the same being true for lions. So, instead of actually having to use any creative force, I can just mythos the hell out of it.