Myths and Legends about Twins

Picture by Flambal Olek: "Feuershow Berlin - Feuer Zwillinge". Some rights reserved. Source: www.piqs.de

It is not only that twins leave a startling and unusual impression today, but they already were in focus in the ancient world, due to the fact that they were unexplainable and extraordinary for a lot of people, which led to a lot of myths and legends about them. Those legends and myths are partly positive, but there are also a lot of them, which have a negative reference. This might be caused by the unexplainable, that scared the general public. Consequently, there are a lot of legends which are linked with magical and wondrous beliefs and are based on the development, existence and the way of living of twins. For example, twins are said to have supernatural powers and to be initiators of luck and unluck. They embodied gods and devils, rulers and the suppressed, as well as good and evil. The counterparts were often depicted in twins; one of the twins was the good one and the other one was portrayed as the evil one. Since people could not explain the existence of twins, they thought that in the process of their making, animals, gods, demons or ghosts played a role as their genitor. Walter Friedrich collected some of these legends and myths in his book Zwillinge. The most interesting of them are given here:

In Egypt:

Osiris was the ruler of the realm of the dead and was one of the central god figures in Old Egypt. At the same time he was the twin and husband of Isis.

In Old Persia:

The twins Ohrmuzd (God of Light) and Ahriman (God of Darkness) presented the counterparts of good and evil.

In Old Germania:

Balder (handsome and gallantly) and Hoedur (ugly and deceitful) were Germanic god figures. The twins presented good and evil and thus Balder was slain by his twin brother Hoedur.

In Hindu Mythology:

The inseparable Ashvins or Ashwini Kumaras were divine twin horsemen and gods and guardians of the poor, the loving, the pregnant and children. They symbolised the shining of sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot. They were also able to heal impotence and infertility (Friedrich 19).

In Ancient Greek Mythology:

Zeus (god father) procreated three pairs of twins through adultery, for which he provoked acts of revenge for each time he cheated on his wife Hera.

With Titan Leto:

He created Apollo (God of the Arts) and Artemis (Goddess of the Hunt).

With Alcmene (wife of the king of Thebes):

She gave birth to the twin-brothers Heracles, the divine hero, and Iphicles.

With Leda (Queen of Sparta):

Zeus seduced her in the guise of a swan and Leda produced two eggs. In one of the eggs were Castor und Pollux (also known as Dioscuri), and in the other one the beautiful Helen and Clytemnestra Consequently, Castor and Pollux were identical twins, as well as Helen and Clytemnestra (later wife of Agamemnon). In Latin the twins Castor and Pollux were are also known as the Geminior Castores. When Castor was killed, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini.

Poseidon (God of the Ocean)

He even produced five pairs of twins according to Plato and the Greek-Roman Mythology. Those twins were fraternal twins, which were fed by animals and rescued by humans. The most famous twin-pair, was the one of Romulus und Remus. The priestess Rhea Silvia conceived the twins by the God Mars, who disguised himself as a wolf and raped her in a cave. Those twins were lactated by wolves and raised by shepherds. Romulus later killed his brother Remus to gain power and then founded the city of Rome.

Old Testament:

There are only two pairs of twins mentioned from the 3500 persons in the Old Testament. The one pair is Esau and Jacob, the sons of Isaac and Rebecca. They are symbolic figures of the hunters and the settled stock farmers and owned different ways of life accordant to their character traits. Esau was a brave hunter, who lived on the fields and Jacob was a civilised man, who lived in tents (Friedrich 20).

Inca:

In Peru male twins are considered as sons of the god of the lightning and are seen as the chosen ones and are carried through the streets with anthems. They enjoy a lot of privileges and taboos: those twins and their parents were rated as especially potent and efficient and so were put in the role of magical and artistic tasks, like weathermen, medicine men, fortune tellers, chiefs and singers.

The Dakota-Indians in North America:

The twins were seen as some kind of lucky charm there and as supernatural creatures, who come from another world, "Twinland", and so were treated with a lot of respect.

The Native South-Americans:

Twin births are seen as an evil sign and as proof of adultery of women or even demonic possession. As a result, twin mothers were castigated or murdered. Other tribes used quite similar methods.

Ainu (The natives of Sakhalin):

Women who conceived twins were avoided by the other women out of the fear to get infected and have to bear twins as well. The younger of the twins was often murdered or hidden from the family and later abandoned in the forest (Friedrich 21).

Old Peru:

The parents had to endure a strict fasting after the birth of the twins and were publically humiliated by wearing a rope around their necks on which they were brought forth. The twins themselves were often killed shortly after their birth or at least one of them.

In the Middle Ages:

Mothers who bore twins were accused to be involved with the devil and were burned at the stake with their children (Friedrich 22).

 

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