This is Sea Gabriel with Mythic Deviant and part three of the Shapeshifter: The shapeshifter as a Game-Changer.
I want to note that the stories I’m telling are stories. They are not purely historical events. They are based on Truth with a capital T: the essence of what it is to be human. They are (arguably) not based on little-t truth: events that happen in a specific fashion in the physical world.
Many of these stories are told in a variety of ways. There are even storytelling caves where the different variations of myths are all on the wall so that storytellers can put them together in a way that best serves the people who are there. Different people, at different times, need different stories. But the same archetypes and conflicts arise again and again. So I may tell the same story differently, or you may have heard the story differently, and that’s appropriate. The one that speaks to our hearts at the time is the one we need in our present stage. The others also reveal captial-t truths, but we might not need to hear those at this exact moment. They’re still good, and we may want them later. They can be filed away for future use.
Back to our subject: the Shapshifter. The Shapeshifter is about change, deep, lasting, true change, not just the illusion of change. And this time we’ll look at how it’s used to change the world. It’s a little dire.
Sometimes we just need to make an example out of someone. And, in this case, it’s Nirobe.
Thebes is having a major party in celebration of Latona (mom of Apollo—Greek Sun God—and Artemis—Greek Goddess of the Hunt, and one of Zeus’s many ex’s. She’s a titan.). Niobe arrives on the scene, and is deeply offended. People just don’t worship her enough. So she lets her feelings be known.
“What are you people doing worshiping someone who you’ve never seen, and who may not even exist? I am the woman who rules this place, and I rule it well, if I do say so myself. I am beautiful and happy and have everything I could ever want. If anyone deserves worship, it’s me. Besides, I have seven daughters and seven sons. Surely that is evidence that I am better than an outdated titan who has only one of each. I’m seven times a worthy as she.”
As one might expect, Latona is not thrilled with this. So she calls her kids, Apollo and Artemis. “Do something,” she says, “she’s humiliating me.” And her deity-offspring comes through. Artemis takes her bow and arrows and shoots each of the seven daughters dead, while Apollo takes his arrows of death and disease and gives the sons a slightly more lingering, but still swift, end.
When their father gets home and finds all his 14 children dead and/or dying, he, too, takes his own life. Within days Niobe finds herself alone. In her heartbroken stupor, she begins sob . . . and to walk . . . and walk . . . and walk . . . until she turns into stone. To this day, she sits, as a huge stone on Mount Sipylus, weeping eternally for all she has lost.
She is shapeshifted, by another. Her life is transformed, to teach us a lesson: to teach us that all things gained can be lost; to teach us that gratitude is a safer choice than pride; to teach us that humans, no matter how fortunate, are not appropriate objects of worship.
This is the second person use of the Shapeshifter as a game changer.
For the first person version of this story, I’m picking Quetzalcoatl.
As a child, Quetzalcoatl watches the annual sacrifices. A ‘volunteer’ (usually some captured from a war with another tribe) is taken to the top of the pyramid. The chief lays the person across the altar, takes his sacred blade from its hallowed case, raises it to the sky to bless and purify it, then plunges it into the volunteer, ripping out his still-beating heart, and holds it up as an offering to the gods. This assures that the rains will come, the crops will grow, and the community wil be blessed.
As a young man, Quetzalcoatl is fierce, brilliant, and deadly. So he is groomed for the throne. The first year he is in charge he easily selects a captor. After all, he had been at the battle. That young man’s father had killed several of his men. He walks him to the top of the pyramid. He lays him across the altar, shaking, he takes his sacred blade from its hallowed case and, with the rage of a young warrior, he raises it to the sky to bless and purify it, then plunges it into the volunteer, ripping out his still-beating heart, and holds it up as an offering to the gods. Then he shakes for a long while, even after having a stiff drink.
As the first few years go by this becomes easier. And at his 3rd annual sacrifice, he is cool, competent, and professional. He has no need for a drink. And he continues to lead his people in their wars against the neighboring tribes.
But by the 9th year he is becoming weary. He has seen too many of his own men die. And he recently had to kill a young man who too closely resembled his brother.
So he prays on this extensively, and, from there, he begins to lobby the council. The sacrifices, he argues, can be made in time, animal, and grain. There is no need for human life to be involved. The Gods, he claims, are satisfied with the care and attention of the populace. They do not require its blood. But the council balks. “We have always done it this way. The gods need fresh blood or they will turn on us.”
So that year, he does as he is told. He walks his captor, a healthy young man who, he has learned, makes beautiful art and sculptures, to the top of the pyramid. He lays him across the altar, shaking, he takes his sacred blade from its hallowed case and, with the trepidation of a man who has seen too much blood, he raises it to the sky to bless and purify it, then plunges it into the volunteer, ripping out his still-beating heart, and holds it up as an offering to the gods.
And he continues both his prayers and his campaign. He concentrates on increasing the rituals at other times of year, to take the pressure off the annual sacrifice. And he leads people in deeper and more frequent worship. And he insists, to the council, that it is time to do away with human sacrifice. As the event approaches he argues passionately that there is enough death in the world, that what they need is life and the way to get it is by honoring and respecting the lives they have.
But the council disagrees. “If you love your home, if you love your community, if you love your people, you will do this sacrifice.”
So when the day comes, He walks his captor to the top of the pyramid. He lays him across the altar, with a strong and steady hand he takes his sacred blade from its hallowed case, he raises it to the sky to bless and purify it, then plunges it into his chest, and rips out his own still-beating heart.
And Quetzalcoatl is no longer a chief. He is now a God. A God who ended blood sacrifices, and whose return we still await. He’s sometimes referred to as the Mezoamerican Christ.
Other stories would have worked here, too: Achilles, Tyr, Indra, Odin, MLK, Ghandi, Sita, Loki, Rosa Parks, or any other of the thousands of gods, heroes, spirits, and people have laid down their lives, literal or figurative, so that we can live with a little more depth, a little more awareness.
Jesus is well heard of in our culture, but far from the alone. Even now there are homeless folks sleeping in the park uncomfortable, hungry, and uncared for. They are dying for our greed, fear, and self-righteousness: we can go outside and watch them die for our sins.
One last shapeshifer story because the one’s we touched on were so, well, terminal.
On to the Norse. In Norse mythology there are nine worlds. We live in Midgard, in case you ever get lost on Yggdrasil, the world tree, and need to find your way home. The Gods we know today largely live in Asgard, which is the realm of the Æsir: the Gods-of-Human-Conquest. But there is also Vanaheim, the realm of the Vanir: the Gods-of-Human-Nature. This ream birthed the ‘old Gods’ such as Frej (the green man or nature god) and Freja, the Goddess of love, sex, and death (the giver and taker of life).
Predictibly, the power shift is not gentle. There’s a war between the Aesir, or residents of Asgard, and the Vanir, or residents of Vanaheim. It is ugly and ends in a mutual hostage situation, which is how Frey and Freja make it to Asgard with their dad, Njord, God of beaches, edges, and margins (how cool is he?)
But tensions run high for quite a while, even after the trade. One day a hearty looking gentleman comes into town and offered to use his services as a builder to construct a great wall around Asgard so that the Æsir, with their impenetrable defenses, can become rulers of all 9 realms. Odin, the Allfather, asks about the conditions. The gentleman requests a year for completion, Freja (the aforementioned sex-goddess), the sun, and the moon, as payment. This displeases Freja greatly. There’s another story about how she came to also rule over death, as she started out with just love and sex. But I think this may have something to do with it as well.
Anyway, Loki suggests they drop the timeframe and insists the builder can’t have help. He suggests that the builder can’t make the terms and they will get most of a wall for free. The gentleman agrees under the condition that his horse, Sva∂ilfari, can assist. They agree.
And that horse can build! Sva∂ilfari and the builder whip the wall into shape and it’s looking like they may complete in time, which is thoroughly unacceptable to Freja and others. They freak and begin to bodily abuse Loki, who insists he has a plan and flees the room.
The next day, when the builder arrives with his steed to finish the end of the wall, a sultry young mare awaits him. And his horse, who he needs so much, takes off after her. The steed finally returns the next day, but the terms have not been met, and the Æsir do, in fact, have a free almost-complete wall.
The builder complains, but it’s about that time that Thor returns from a tour of giant fighting and instantly recognizes that the builder is secretly a giant. They fight. Thor smacks him with mjölnir, his hammer. That’s how most things end with Thor.
But Loki, our shapeshifter (Odin’s also one, but he’s stayed put in this tale) is missing for a while. He returns a year later, leading a colt, Sleipnir, who has 8 legs and the ability to travel anywhere through any medium, even the realm of the dead. Loki presents him to Odin, who is further empowered.
Loki has shapeshifted. He changed into the mare, altering himself at a cellular level. He saved love, sex, and the natural world. He protected Asgard through its new wall. And he empowered Odin to conquer the remaining outliers in the 9 realms.
Loki, unquestionably, is a God who learns. And the lessons that he garners along the way, including the way the Æsir attacked him when under stress, including what it’s like to be left in the wilderness—alone and pregnant, including giving away his chid for the good of his community—and the stunning disrespect that comes with that likely contribute to his role in the eventual downfall of the group.
He shapeshifts, by choice, of his own accord, and saves his world . . . at a huge cost to himself, and I believe it’s fair to say that he’s never the same again.
So how do we shape-shift in service to our world? For some of us, there are things for which we’re willing to trade in our current lives. For some of us there are not. Each of us can reflect each archetype, but some are so deeply embedded, we can not cast them off if we want to, while others are a distant reach that we can barely stretch to.
The Shapeshifter, like all archetypes, is a superpower. And it can achieve super results, at super prices—and sometimes they’re worth it: use with caution . . . and wisdom.
Next time, the Love Goddess. Until then, author responsibly.