Sunday, 16 February 2020

Goat riding thunder god



Norse thunder god Thor, Slavic thunder god Perun and Baltic thunder god Perkūnas all rode the sky in a chariot drawn by goats...Why?

I will here try to answer this question. But I have to warn you: answering this question will open many many interesting questions about the origin of North European pagan religions...

From what I can see, there is not explanation why these north European thunder gods are driving around in goat pulled chariots. Apart from "this belief comes from common Indo-European belief system"...Which is like saying "I have no idea what all this goat rubbish is all about".

To find why Northern European thunder gods ride around in goat pulled chariots, we have to look southward. To Ancient Greece...

In Greek mythology, the thunder god Zeus was a son of Cronus and Rhea. Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overthrown by his son as he had previously overthrown Uranus, so as soon as Rhea had a child, Cronus would promptly swallow it.

When Zeus was about to be born, Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save him. So she gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and gave him to Ἀμάλθεια  (Amaltheia) who became his foster mother. Rhea then gave Cronus a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he promptly swallowed.



Ἀμάλθεια  (Amaltheia) took Zeus to a cave in Cretan Αἰγαῖον ὄρος (Goat Mountain), today Dikti where she nursed him feeding him goat milk. In order that Cronus should not hear the wailing of the infant, Amalthea gathered about the cave the Kuretes or the Korybantes to dance, shout, and clash their spears against their shields...

Now here is an interesting thing about Zeus's foster mother. The name Amaltheia, means "tender goddess" in Ancient Greek. There were two different traditions regarding her identity. In the first one, Amaltheia is a goat-tending nymph of uncertain parentage. In the second one Amaltheia is a she goat...

In some traditions, Amaltheia's skin, or that of her goat which sucked infant Zeus, taken by Zeus in honour of her when she died, became the "Αιγις" (Aegis),  a kind of "protective thing carried by Zeus who then gave it to Athena". Apparently, the exact nature of "aegis" is uncertain...

In "The New World Encyclopedia" we can read that the Greek word Αιγις (Aegis) has 3 meanings:

1. "violent windstorm" from the verb 'αïσσω (stem 'αïγ-) meaning "I rush or move violently"
2. "goatskin coat" from treating the word as "something grammatically feminine pertaining to goat (Greek αιξ (stem αιγ-))"
3. "Zeus' shield"

"The New World Encyclopedia then goes to say that the original meaning of Aegis may have been "storm". That would mean that Zeus's epithet "Ζευς Αιγιοχος" (Zeus Aigioxos), usually understood to mean "Zeus who holds the aegis", may have originally meant "Stormy sky".

The transition to the meaning "shield" may have emerged as a folk-etymology among a people familiar with draping an animal skin over the left arm as a shield. It is also noted that since the Greek word aegis contains the double-meaning of "stormy" and "goatish" that this accounts for the close connection between the goat and storms in myth...

In "Indo-European Poetry and Myth" By M. L. West, Morris West we read that Zeus "Αιγιοχος" might originally have meant Zeus who rides on a goat...Apparently, in one of Orphic theogonies, Zeus rode to heaven on a goat...

So, it seems that the Indo-Europeans really did have a thing for making their thunder gods ride on goats...

But why was Zeus nursed by a goat? And why did he also ride on a goat?

Well to get the answer this this question we have to look at Cretan climate.

I lived in Chania in Crete many years ago. It is an incredibly beautiful place full of charm and history.



I arrived in May and left next April...There was not a drop of rain between May and late October. Then after occasional October shower, it started to rain in November, and it pretty much didn't stop until early April...

The Crete climate is characterised by hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The rainy season starts in late October and lasts till March or even April.



Snowfalls are extremely rare in the coastal zone of Crete, especially so in the eastern part of the island, but are plentiful in the central mountain region. This is what I saw above Chania when I arrived in May. It was already 30 degrees in town and I thought the mountain tops were white because of white rocks. It turned out they were covered in half a meter of snow...



Now what does this have to do with goats?

This is Cretan wild goat (scient. Capra aegagrus creticus), also known as agrimi, kri-kri, or Cretan Ibex, an endemic subspecies of wild goat.



Red-brown steatite pyramidal stamp seal engraved with a design of an Ibex goat. Middle Minoan I, Early Minoan III, 2300BC-1850BC, Excavated in Crete



The Cretan Ibex lives in arid high mountain areas. They go out for pasture in the morning and evening, sheltering during the day in rocky recesses and caves!!! Most of the year they live in same-sex herds of up to 20 animals, with fully mature males actually living alone. During the breeding season however, male and female animals mix and the most dominant males form harems. The male domination is determined through spectacular fights...



Now here is the important bit: The mating period of the Cretan Ibex goat, during which it radically changes its behaviour starts in October and November. Right at the beginning of the Cretan rain season.


Agrimi or wild goats, Middle Minoan II (1900 BC-1750 BC) seal stone. 


Why would Minoans have wild ibex goat mating on seal?

In the past people believed that rain is the gift of rain (storm) gods. Rain storms were equaled with storm gods...

Minoans could be excused for believing that the arrival of rain was in some way linked to Ibex goats. Every year the beginning of the Cretan Ibex mating season signalled the arrival of the rain storms...It almost looks like the rain storms were caused by, brought by Ibex goat...Which eventually lead to the image of the rain (storm) god arriving  on a goat, or in chariots pulled by goats...

Now let's go back to the Ancient Greek legend about the infant Zeus.

Infant Zeus - the storms and storm gods were equated in the past, the beginning of the storm season can then be symbolically depicted as the infancy of the Storm god Zeus.

Infant Zeus was nursed by a goat in a cave on a Goat Mountain (!!!) - during the beginning of the storm season, Cretan Ibex (which shelters in caves) ascends to the rocky snow free mountain tops and begins its mating season.

Infant Zeus is protected by clashing, noise making Kuretes or the Korybantes (!!!) - Cretan Ibex mating season is the time of vicious clanging banging male goat fights...

Zeus, once grown up, ascends from the goat mountain to the sky (heaven) riding on a goat, or wearing a goat skin, or carrying a goat shield (!!!)...

Sounds pretty obvious when you put it side by side...

I believe that Ibex had a huge religious significance in Minoan culture. Here is why:

The dry season in Crete is the dead season. The relentless sun burns down day after day, scorching and drying everything. By the time the first October rains arrive, the soil is rock hard and dead dry, the plants are dead yellow brown, and the wells and river beds are dry...



Everyone is looking at the sky, waiting for the arrival of the first rain bearingn clouds...

And then the Ibex mating season starts, and the first rains arrive...The wells and river beds start filling in again. The flowers, like wild saffron, start flowering.



By the way the main wild flower season in Crete starts in late autumn and ends in early spring...

The soil, which is now softened by rain, is ploughed and winter grain is sown, which very quickly sprouts and starts groing as more and more rain falls.

The life returns.

In Crete, the Storm god, who arrives when Cretan Ibex mating season starts, doesn't just bring rain. He brings life. Well actually, Minoans probably saw Ibex as the bringer of life...Which is why Ibex is seen on Minoan fresco from Knossos flanking "the tree of life" while crocuses are blooming all around. By the way, the tree is olive. And olives are harvested from late October, early November...So this fresco depicts the beginning of the rain season, when ibexes fight, crocuses bloom and olives are ripe...



The above fresco is from the article "The Frescoes from the House of the Frescoes at Knossos: A Reconsideration of Their Architectural Context and a New Reconstruction of the Crocus Panel" by Anne P. Chapin and Maria C. Shaw

Here is another depiction of ibexes facing the tree of life, this time on a Minoan seal from Goulas Crete




Of course the religious importance of this image is totally missed by archaeologists...

I like this statement: Some academics believe that Cretan Ibex was worshiped on the island during antiquity. But why? The same academics have no idea...


What is interesting about the depictions of Ibexes in Minoan art is that they are depicted in two completely different ways. 

If they are in the same scene with women they are depicted happily roaming among the vegetation with women, like on this wall paintings from Room 14 at Hagia Triada


or they are even being petted by women, like on these seals




Both images are from "Image and Architecture: Reflections of Mural Iconography in Seal Images and Other Art Forms of Minoan Crete" by Fritz Blakolmer

If they are in the same scene with men, they are being hunted by men...

Like on these votive plaques depicting men hunting Crete Ibex from  "The Knossos Hunt and wild goats in ancient Crete" by Jonas Eiring






They were found in the "Simi sanctuary". This sanctuary complex is situated on the southern side of Mount Dikte (yes the goat mountain where goat suckled infant Zeus), 1,200 metres above sea level, just above the village of Kato Simi or Symi. Unusually for Crete this sanctuary remained in constant use from the Minoan Protopalatial MM II period (1900 BC-1750 BC), up to Roman times. The explanation proposed was that hunting Ibex goats was a kind of initiation rite for young men in Minoan society...

Maybe. Or maybe the Ibex hunting was reenacting of a cosmic hunt which takes place every year right in the middle of the Eurasian Ibex mating season (November-January) when Sagittarius (the hunter) ends and Capricorn (the goat) begins. On winter solstice... 



I talked about this in my post "Zlatorog-Goldhorn". By pure "coincidence" this is the period of the highest precipitation in Crete...Which is what goat brings...

The hunting scenes depicting men and dogs hunting Ibex goats become very common on seals and gems from Middle Minoan period (1900BC). This is one from the base of an ivory half cylinder found in Knossos. Ibex is again depicted together with a green branch...



From "The palace of Minos : a comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos" by Sr Arhur Evans

These "talismanic" seals depicting ibex about to be pierced by a spear...They all also have depictions of growing plants. What were they depicting? Are these spears or lightning bolts? Was Ibex ritually hunted and sacrificed? These plaques are dated to Late Minoan I period (1480BC-1425BC) are from "Minoan Goat Hunting: Social Status and the Economics of War" by Angela Murock Hussein



In "Wild Nature? Human–Animal Relations on Neopalatial Crete" by Andrew Shapland we can read that "The goats are often shown speared, suggesting that these are hunting scenes"...Basically Ibex goats were for Minoans just game, hunted for meat, skin and horn...

But this doesn't explain why was Ibex apparently treated differently by women and men? Well, again I couldn't find any answer to this question.

So here is what I think.

Remember Serbian and Celtic calendar, which divided the solar year into only two seasons: one Dark, Wet, Cold, Yin, Feminine, Dominated by The Goddess, Mother Earth (Rhea???) (Winter and Spring) which started in November and the other one Light, Dry, Hot, Yang, Masculine, Dominated by The God, Father Sun (Summer and Autumn) which started in May?



Where did Serbs and Celts get this idea of two season year? Where did the Celts get the idea that the New Year should start on Samhain, 1st of November? This certainly doesn't match the Central European climate...I talked about this calendar in my posts "Two crosses" and "Two Georges"...

From Minoans maybe? The Ibex mating season which starts at the end of October beginning of November marks the beginning of the Yin, Female season. Now Ibex gestation period is 147 to 180 days, which means that the kids are born between April and June...Righ at the beginning of the Yang, Male season...I talked about this in my post "Yin and Yang".

And guess what: The winter grain planted at the beginning of the Ibex mating season are ready to be harvested at the end of the Ibex gestation period, right when the young Ibex kids are being born...How cool is this? Here is a seal depicting ibex and what looks like barley...What is the symbol above the Ibex?



Now in my post "Symbols of the seasons" I talked about the fact that Ibex is the symbol of winter. The reason why Ibex is the symbol of winter is because all Ibexes in northern hemisphere mate during the winter period, normally from October-November to January.

So...

Yin, Female, Goddess, part of the year, was life producing part of the year, hence happy goats with women (goddesses)??? Yang, Male, God part of the year was life destroying part of the year, hence dead goats with men (gods)???

At the opposite side of the solar circle, summer starts in May with the calving and ends in August with mating of of aurochs (wild Eurasian cattle). Which is why Bull is the symbol of summer.

Do we find this division of the solar year between bull and goat part? I think we do.

This is a larnax, a type of small closed coffin, box or "ash-chest" often used as a container for human remains. It was found in Mycenaean Tanagra cemetery which was dated to 14th - 13th century BC...



And it was definitely developed under huge Minoan influence. This can be seen from the fact that the bottom part of the panel depicts bull leaping, favourite "past time" of the Minoans. I would say that this activity was a religious ceremony performed during the bull part of the year, summer. In the top panel we see Ibex goat hunt. I would say religious ceremony performed during the goat part of the year, winter.  The main question here is why was this panel divided like this? And why were these two scenes depicted separated like this?

We know that the Ibex cult existed in Mycenae, to where it was most likely brought from Minoan Crete. We can see this from seals found in Mycenaean sites.

This is a Lentoid Gem depicting Sacred Tree and Ibex Goats from Mycenae.




This is next artefact, a Gold Signet Ring from Mycenae, is even more interesting.



In "Mycenaean Tree and Pillar Cult and Its Mediterranean Relations, Journal of Hellenic Studies 21, 1901" Arthur Evans says this about this artefact:

"In the gold ring from the Lower Town of Mycenae, a man in the usual Mycenaean garb, who perhaps answers to the male attendant of the Goddess in other religious scenes, is seen reaching out his hand towards the topmost bough of what is perhaps also intended for a fruit tree. Behind him with the branches of another tree visible above the back, stands a large agrimi or Cretan wild goat - an animal seen elsewhere in connexion with female votaries. This goat may represent the sacred animal of either the male or female member of the divine pair referred to in the preceding- sections....the votive remains of the Diktaean Cave as well as the traditions of Amaltheia tend to show that this animal was sacred to the indigenous 'Zeus' at an earlier period than the bull. The ox indeed in any form seems to be absent in the more primitive archaeological strata of the island"

This is very very interesting on so many levels...

Cretan wild goat - an animal seen elsewhere in connexion with female votaries (Symbol of the Goddess, Yin, part of the year), was once the symbol of Zeus, who was later associated with the bull, but Evans didn't know why...

Now the climate in Mycenae, on Peloponnesus, is similar the climate in Crete, consisting of hot dry summers and mild wet winters. But year is not clearly divided into dry and wet period, as can be seen from the precipitation table.



It basically can rain all year round, and the rains start in September, right after the Aurochs mating season, which is why eventually, Zeus, rain storm, became associated with bull...

So Mycenaeans didn't have a direct obvious reason to associate Ibex with Zeus, Rains storm...

Yet on mainland Greece, Ibex was still seen as "the bringer of life"...Except after a while everyone forgot why...Which is why eventually this life bringing goat, whose mad mating causes nature to flourish, flowers to flower, trees to bud, rivers to flow....became Πάν (Pan)...

Pan, who has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. Whose skin is Pan carrying? Is this "Αιγις" (Aegis),  the goat skin which Zeus carried from Crete? It just occurred to me. What do you get if you clothe Holy Zeus, the bringer of rain, in goat skin? Holy Ibex Goat, the bringer of rain, of course...



Pan, the god of the wild, nature of mountain wilds, natural vegetative cycle caused by gods rather than men.

Pan, the lover and companion of the Nymphs (nature sprits) and particularly the darling of Naiades (nymphs presiding over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of fresh water)...No wonder considering that it is the Holy Goat who used to bring rain and fresh water to Minoan Crete... 

Pan, the symbol of sex and lust and therefore symbol of fertility. Who because of different climate on Greek mainland, became associated with the season of spring and Aphrodite, goddess of love and spring. No wonder, that on mainland Greece Spring, and not Winter, was the time when life returned to the nature...



Pan, who in his earliest appearance in literature, Pindar's Pythian Ode iii. 78, was associated with a mother goddess. Perhaps Rhea??? The Goddess which is always playing with goats on Minoan artefacts??? And who gave Zeus to a goat to mind him?

Pan, whose worship began in Arcadia which was always the principal seat of his worship. Arcadia was a district of mountain people, culturally separated from other Greeks. Remember, Greeks considered Arcadians the oldest inhabitants of Greece, Pelasgians. They were so ancient and so traditional and archaic that they still ate acorns...I talked about this in my posts "Acorns in ancient texts" and "Pelasgos". And they still remembered at leas part of the "Old faith", before Olympians arrived...Ahh. Arcadia is sooo close to Mycenae...Where Minoan Holy Ibex landed on the Greek mainland...

Pan, who as a "rustic god" (read here "old god"), was not worshipped in temples or other built edifices, but in natural settings, usually caves or grottoes such as the one on the north slope of the Acropolis of Athens. These are often referred to as the Cave of Pan...Hmmm...Cave...Just like the holy cave in holy Goat Mountain here the Holy Goat nursed the Holy Infant Zeus...

Pan, who was a hunter, and to whom hunters owed their success or failure and whose statue Arcadian hunters used to scourge if they had been disappointed during hunt. Hmmmm....Holy hunt again???

And here is the best bit...

Pan's parentage is unclear. In most accounts though, he is the son of Zeus...Hmmm...Considering that it is the Holy Goat which brings forth the Holy God...

Hyginus says that Aega (whose name means probably She Goat) who was a daughter of Melisseus, king of Crete, was chosen to suckle the infant Zeus. But as she had no milk, it was goat Amalthea who suckled infant Zeus. Hyginus also says that while married to Pan, Aega had a son by Zeus whom she called Aegipan (Goat Pan), and who was also suckled by Amalthea...Hmmm...So both Zeus and Pan were suckled by the same She Goat...



Zeus actually tells Athena that "...goatfoot Pan...once was mountain-ranging shepherd of the goat Amaltheia my nurse, who gave me milk"...Meaning that Pan, Holy Goat, was there before the arrival of Zeus, Holy God...

And finally, the BESTEST :) bit: 

Pan aided his foster-brother Zeus in the battle with the Typhon...



TYPHOEUS (Typhon) was a monstrous "storm-giant" who laid siege to heaven but was defeated by Zeus. He was the source of devastating storms which issued forth from that dark nether-realm. 

I don't think Typhon was a storm giant or a source of devastating storms...He was The Dragon, the symbol of destructive blazing heat of the late summer...

Typhoeus was a winged giant, said to be so huge that his head brushed the stars. He was a sky being not being of the nether realm...


Hesiod in his Theogony dated to 8th or 7th century BC describes him like this:

"Typhoeus; the hands and arms of him are mighty, and have work in them, and the feet of the powerful god were tireless, and up from his shoulders there grew a hundred snake heads, those of a dreaded drakon (dragon-serpent), and the heads licked with dark tongues, and from the eyes on the inhuman heads fire glittered from under the eyelids: from all his heads fire flared from his eyes' glancing; and inside each one of these horrible heads there were voices that threw out every sort of horrible sound, for sometimes it was speech such as the gods could understand, but at other times, the sound of a bellowing bull, proud-eyed and furious beyond holding, or again like a lion shameless in cruelty, or again it was like the barking of dogs, a wonder to listen to..."

Snakes are symbol of sun's heat.

Dragons breathing fire or glaring fire are symbols of the destructive sun's heat at the end of the summer which brings draught. 

Bellowing bull is the symbol of summer, because summer starts in Taurus. 

Lion is the symbol of the end of summer, the hottest part of the year, which falls in the middle of Leo. 

Dogs are symbol of "Dogs days", the hottest 7 days of the year. Middle of Leo falls in the middle of Dog Days...

Typhoeus was also described as a giant which was "breathing fire" and whose eyes were "flashing fire"...

Hardly a description of a Storm Giant...

But then, I love that Typhoeus also had "a filthy, matted beard and pointed ears"...Just like Pan who looks suspiciously like an Ibex goat. The Holy Goat which brought rain to Minoan Crete every October-November and ended the drought...The Goat who killed Typhoeus...Or as Zeus bragged "who helped him kill Typhoeus"...

Oh, by the way, did you know that we also have Panes "rustic spirits" of the mountains and highland pastures who protected the goat herds and sheep flocks which grazed these lands. Panes were depicted as goat-footed men with the horns, tail, beard, snub nose and ears of a goat. They sometimes had actual goat-heads instead of just a few goatish features. As lascivious fertility spirits they were often depicted with erect members...



Jumping, noise making, horny Ibex Goats during their mating season, which announce the arrival of life bringing rain to Minoan Crete, springs to mind immediately...No wonder Panes were "the attendants upon the sacred rites of Rhea and Dionysos"...Life bringing sacred rites of Mother Goddess and...That is another story for another time...

Soooooo....

What was the original question? Ah yes: Why are Norse thunder god Thor, Slavic thunder god Perun and Baltic thunder god Perkūnas all riding the sky in a chariot drawn by goats?

Well we know now why. But how come this image of the Thunder god arriving in a chariot pulled by goats was preserved by Norse, Balts and Slavs...All the way up in the north of Europe, where Thunder god riding on a chariot pulled by goats makes no sense at all, because the climate there is completely different...

And how come it did not survive in Greece? Or Rome? 

I believe that this means that this belief must have been brought to the north of Europe from all the way down south before the Greek Dark Age...Before the collapse of the Greek Bronze Age...Before the collapse of Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations...Before the reason why it is the Holy Goat who brings life was forgotten...

One possible scenarios is:

Mycenaeans controlled amber trading route which connected Balkan and Baltic. They brought their stories about rain bringing goat up north. Time passed... Civilisations crumbled... The stories became legends... Legends whose original meaning was forgotten... And we ended up with goat riding thunder gods of the Norse, Slavs and Balts...

This would mean that these legends are what, only 3500 years old!!! And that Mycenaeans influenced the development of Norse, Slavic and Baltic culture...Not bad...

Another possible scenario...

Well it makes these legends much much older...Over 7000 years old...You didn't think Minoans were the first people to worship the Holy Goat???

I will write about this in my next post. This one is already toooooooo long... And this next post will open many many many interesting questions about the origin of the "Indo-European" religious beliefs, culture and language...

10 comments:

  1. Incredible, highly detailed, and dare I say - groundbreaking article!! Thank you for this. Your theory is rational and opens many new possibilities that show huge glimpses into the Old Europe. One question - can you elaborate on Perun riding goat chariots? I haven't heard of this before, can you share some source or proof, for further reading? Thank you.

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    1. I can't really remember now. It was circumstantial based on parallels in animal sacrifice between Balts and East Slavs. Not really important for the actual theme of the article. Will see if I can find it for you later...

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    2. I was re-thinking this theory, and one thing struck me as a possibility. Let me know what you think.
      I took a closer look at the famous Dupljaja Cart - a figure of a deity in a chariot that is pulled by two birds - seemingly swans or ducks. Another partial cart was also discovered at the location. It is also stated that the place was the location of a major Slavic fort. Now, the human figures of the Dupljaja cart have bird heads - this detail repeats itself everywhere I look: deities with bird heads are all across the European world and beyond. The earliest such depiction is from the Lascaux cave from 17,000 years BP (Magdalenian period) - showing a man with a head of a bird.
      I connected this cart figure with the strong Slavic belief in birds. Souls migrating into birds, roosting in world tree of Veles, returning with the spring and bringing new life (reincarnation, etc.) Could it be a possibility that Perun (or some other Slavic deity) rode chariots pulled by birds, rather than goats? It makes so much more sense, to be honest. And could this Dupljaja figure and similar finds of carts pulled by birds be an early representation of Perun? If so, it would certainly give a strong contribution to the fact that the Slavic cultures are much older than the modern history claims them to be. Consider this theory. Thank you for reading, I appreciate all your work!

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    3. Sun god. He goes away to Irij, land of the dead, with migratory birds at the beginning of winter and comes back from Irij with migratory birds in spring...In Serbian mythology, Dabog is the sun god but also god of the dead...

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    4. I see, that makes sense! And may I ask how do you see Veles in the South Slavic belief? As a facet of Dabog, or...? The modern toponyms of Serbia and Balkans tell us that Veles was a part of the belief, only we are not sure in what way.

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  2. This made me think about the Chimaera, part lion, part goat and part snake. Tree animals for representing the thunder god?

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    1. No they represent the sun...I wrote about it in this post. But I identified goat as marking winter solstice (which it does in continental Europe). But maybe it is better if it is understood as marking the end of the light part of the year. So snake (dragon), beginning of May, beginning of light part of the year. Lion, middle of light part of the year. Goat, end of light part of the year. Which id dominated by the sun...http://oldeuropeanculture.blogspot.com/2017/06/chimera.html

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  3. Agrimi-A grmi (udarci rogovima,grmljavina).

    I da je sve ovo izmišljeno,bolje je od Tolkina! :)

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  4. Typhoeus is the Great Comet, now eroded down to Enke and other detritus.

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    1. I would beg to disagree...I explained why in the article...Dragons and Great Serpents are part of the reoccurring annual interplay between sun and earth...

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