Gods of Thieving

Arkane Curiosities

In the various mythologies around the world, we can find plenty of luck and gambling deities. Yet there are very few gods of outright theft. Saint Nicolas (yes, the Santa Claus guy) comes close with his breaking and entering, but he’s the patron saint of reformed theives. Who exactly are the gods of thieving and outright stealing?

Hermes the Trickster

One of the most famous gods of mischief and trickery is Hermes, who started his career in crime as a baby. It seems the infant god had a hankering for some beef and left his cradle to wrangle up fifty cattle belonging to his brother, Apollo.

To keep the theft secret, Hermes marched the cattle backward, thus disguising which direction the cattle were traveling. Hermes also invented sandals to hide the shape of his feet. All of this so he could roast up a good side of ribs.

He was eventually caught, but Apollo was so amused by the youngster’s trickery that the two became fast friends. Apollo even gave the trickster god a golden caduceus, becoming a symbol for Hermes ever since. 

Santa Muerte

The newest addition to the small pantheon of criminal deities is Santa Muerte, also known as Señora de las Sombras (Lady of the Shadows) or La Santísima Muerte (The Most Holy Death). The phrase Santa Muerte means good death and comes from a Catholic prayer asking for a peaceful passing into the afterlife. Since then, Santa Muerte has become the beloved saint of any who are dispossessed. 

Figures of death have been a common fixture  in Catholic iconography since the thirteenth century, originating with the European plagues. Santa Muerte’s first appearance was in a 1797 inquisition report on the practices of indigenous worshipers. She was mentioned again in the novel Los hijos de Sánchez by American anthropologist Oscar Lewis. 

However Santa Muerte exploded into celebrity with the season three episode of Breaking Bad (No Mas), depicting the Santa Muerte shrine. Since the early 2000s, the cult of Santa Muerte has grown exponentially.

She is popular with migrants as well as sex workers and those in LGBTQ communities. Santa Muerte is associated with those who live precarious lives or are engaged in dangerous undertakings. Worship of her derives from indigenous practices including elements of Spiritualism, Santería, and New Age ideas about spiritual energy.

Santa Muerte’s appeal lies in her non-judgemental nature. She will grant wishes in return for a pledge or an offering. She holds no moral judgment over your actions. 

Both the Catholic Church and the Mexican government oppose and outlaw the worship of Santa Muerte, despite the millions who pay homage to her. 

Laverna the Lost Goddess of Thieving

Laverna was the Roman goddess who answered the prayers of robbers and thieves. The Porta Lavernalis on Aventine Hill was named after her. 

Little is known of this ancient goddess. She may have originated with the Etruscans, where she was venerated as a goddess of the underworld. Since most thieving happens in the dark, the connection is obvious. The word Laverna derives from the Latin latere (to lurk) and levator (a thief).

To honor Laverna, you pour libations with your left hand. This ensures that you have a successful heist without getting caught. She might have also been a goddess of vengeance. In a Plautus play, a cook calls upon Laverna to seek revenge on some thieves who pilfered his tools. Perhaps Laverna served the person who called upon her first (or offered her the most). Or maybe she simply gets annoyed with thieves who were bungling enough to let their crimes be known. 

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!

Angels Are Horrifyingly Beautiful (What Angels Really Look Like)

Arkane Curiosities

When I first picked up the book A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle, I was transfixed by the image of a Cherubim. How could that be an angel? I couldn’t reconcile the image I was seeing with the more traditional depiction of angels, with their human-like bodies and pair of wings. Yet this is what angels really look like.

Renaissance Created the Disney-Versions of Cherubs

Those cute baby angels you see fluttering around every February, those are the sanitized versions of Cherubs (originally known as Cherubim). It seems Renaissance painters mashed together angelic Cherubs with the Greek god Cupid. 

Raphael created characters in his paintings called “putti”, from the Latin word putus, meaning boy. These little toddlers represented pure love. Soon, people began referring to these putti as “Cherubs” because of their association with the pure love of God. 

Yet the true visage of these angels is anything but cute.

The True Meaning of Awesome

The word awesome has taken a left turn in modern English. It now simply refers to something amazing or wonderful. The original meaning is darker. Awesome meant to feel awe, as in bone shaking fear and admiration for what you beheld. It was a word tailor-made for looking on the true image of angels.

The Cherubim — Multi-Faced Creatures of Fire

The putti versions of Cherubs float on clouds and shoot arrows at love-sick teens. The true Cherubim are engulfed in the fiery light of God’s Glory. 

Instead of a single pudgy baby head, the Book of Ezekiel says these angels have four heads: a lion, an ox, an eagle and a human. They also have four wings, two of which tilt down to cover their legs, which have bull hooves by the way.

Art from Isis Sangare

Ezekiel also mentions that every part of the Cherumin — hands, wings, feet — are covered with eyes. This is what Madeleine L’Engle was going for with her description of the angel in A Wind in the Door.

But this is not the most bizarre angel out there. While Cherubims clock in at number three on the angelic hierarchy, Seraphim are number one. 

Seraphim — A Mess of Wings and Flame

The word Seraphim translates to “burning ones”. According to the prophet Isaiah, these angels surround the throne of God. They have six wings, two to cover their legs (because feet are unclean and unworthy to show God), two to fly, and two to cover their face. The result, all you see is wings. This seems to also match Madeleine L’Engle’s depiction of angels.

Art by Aeriel Lee

Depicted as being red, Seraphim are associated with Fire. They each hold a flaming sword with the words “holy, holy, holy” on the blade. In the vision, a Seraphim touches a burning coal to Isaiah’s lips in order to purge him of his sin and to make him fit to be a prophet. 

But at least the Seraphim have recognizable parts, wings and eyes. The number two ranked angel in Heaven doesn’t even have a body.

The Ophanim — Giant Winged Wheels

In Ezekiel’s account, he describes the Ophanim as giant golden wheels, each covered with multiple eyes. In fact the word Ophanim means “wheels”. They had four interlocking golden wheels and could fly in any direction. They are tasked with guarding the throne of God.

The next time you envision an angel, perhaps you will better understand the true meaning of the word awesome. These spiritual beings are meant to instill wonder and fear at the concept of God. 

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!

Attack on Titan: Giants in Mythology Around the World

Arkane Curiosities

When Hajime Isayama created Attack on Titan, he ushered us into a sprawling world of Titans, set on devouring all of mankind. Yet where did Hajime find inspiration for these walking behemoths and are there any other giants in mythology that can serve as models?

Hajime Isayama Loved Things Ugly

In a 2014 interview with the magazine Brutus, Isayama describes how he would doodle in his notebook during Junior High. “I was drawing ugly things exclusively.”

Originally, the Colossal Titan had a much different appearance. Isayama used a “30-Second Drawing” app and designed the giant with a stone body and covered in human teeth. Later, he felt the muscled figure would look cooler and switched it out. 

Drunken Humans Became the First Titans

Isayama worked part-time at an Internet cafe where he would observe the patrons. Many had a look of bewilderment, as if their life had no purpose. He brought these ideas into the idea of the Titans. 

One night, he encountered a drunk patron. Trying to communicate with this person became frustrating and pointless. Isayama was intrigued by “the lack of the ability to communicate even though the person was of the same species.” Thus the Titans were mute, bent on their desire to consume humans.

Cannibalistic Mona Lisa

The manga Jigoku Sensei Nube also inspired Isayama. This series followed a teacher, Nūbē, who used a technique called Demon’s Hand to counter supernatural threats. In issue 34, he took on a now familiar-looking cannibalistic Mona Lisa. The figure would come out of the painting and eat people whole, much like the Titans.

The Norse Jötnar Reveal the Founder, Ymir

In Norse mythology, a race of giants, called Jötnar, live in the land of Jötunheimar. The Jötnar were the enemies of the gods (much like the Titans are the enemies of humanity). Yet many Norse gods had children with these giants and the Jötnar are important to the end of the world, Ragnarök. 

Additionally, the primordial being in Norse mythology is Ymir, who existed before any of the gods. This huge frost giant spent all his time slurping from the teets of a massive cow, Audhumbla.

Three of the Norse gods hated the Jötnar and especially the greedy and noisy Ymir. They attacked the original frost giant, and finally defeated Ymir. The three gods tore apart the body, using Ymir’s flesh to create the world, his blood to make the ocean and his bones to build the mountains. Ymir’s hair became mighty forests and his brain transformed into the clouds in the sky.

The Gashadokuro, or Heaped Bones of the Angry Dead

Japan is filled with magical beings called Yokai and the most monstrous of them all is Gashadokuro — a giant skeleton that roams the night, eating people.

Legend has it that soldiers or victims of a plague who do not receive a proper burial are reborn as ghosts. They die with anger in their hearts and this energy binds hundreds of bones together into a gigantic skeletal monster.

Their teeth clatter (giving them their name) but they can also be silent. If they find a human out late and alone, the gashadokuro will creep up and catch the unwitting traveler. The skeleton crushes its victims in their hands or bites off their heads. 

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!