Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Is a "Lamiak?"

In the previous post about the prehistoric cave art discovered in Basque territory, Spain, the term "lamiak" was used to describe a "half woman-half duck" mythic creature who lived in Askondo cave. 

The term rang a bell, but I don't remember exactly where or why I find it so familiar.  My mind seems to be associating it with Siberian shamanism and ancient Kalmyk (Kalmak) tales that were carried over to the New World as those ancient peoples moved east across land and sea to the New World.  I've got some research buried away - on the computer upstairs!  But I'm downstairs now and I'm not going to go digging for it.

I did, however, find some interesting information about lamia or lamiak (plural?).

The first place I ran to was my library to pull out Barbara Walker's indispensible The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.  Sure enough, I found an entry for Lamia:

Greek name for the Libyan serpent-goddess -- Medusa, Neith, Athene, Anatha, or Buto.(1)  Lamia was probably a variant of Babylonian Lamashtu, "Mother of Gods" worshipped at Der as a serpent with a woman's head.  Though Lamashtu was feared as a Kali-like Destroyer, yet she was also revered as a supreme Goddess, called Daughter of Heaven and Great Lady.(2)  Greek myth made her another rival of Hera.

The Latin Vulgate Bible gave "Lamia" as a translation of Hebrew Lilith, Adam's recalcitrant first wife.  The Authorized Version rendered lamia as a screech owl.  The Revised Version translated the same word as "night monster."  During the Middle Ages, lamia became a general term for a witch.  A 15th-century German professor of theology stated authoritatively that lamiae were "demons in the shape of old women.(3)  See Vagina Dentata


(1)  Graves, G.M., 1, 205.
(2)  Budge, A.T., 117.
(3)  Robbins, 295-96.

Whoa - vagina dentata??? Literally - a vagina with teeth?  A devouring vagina?  Oh my!  No wonder men fear us so. 

Geez Louise!  Talk about a Night Monster...  That ties in to all kinds of legends and myths including the Devouring Mother, Jonah and the Whale (Big Fish), the womb as cave where one gets lost and dies from starvation, not to mention the Incubus (or is it Succubus?).  Perhaps one of the most famous renditions of this myth was the action in one of the Star Wars movies where the Millennium Falcon flew into a cave on a planetoid to escape hunting Imperial Fighters.  The Falcon lands deep inside the cave and Chewy, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker get out of the ship and walk around a bit, but after some time there the "cave" they thought they landed in wakes up and it turns out to be a giant serpent-like creature with huge teeth!  YES!  They had flown right through the mouth into the stomach of the Beast!  Tense drama ensues as the Falcon fires up and races toward the entrance - the creature's mouth - that is fast closing with the teeth acting as gigantic bars to escape!  Gulp!

You will also notice the mention of the screech owl, a totem animal that is anciently connected to shamanism and later became a symbol for "wisdom," and its connection to Athena, the new and improved (tamer) version of the archaic Greek goddess Athene; however, early renditions of Athena retained her serpent character in the form of her "shield" with serpents' heads or in some versions, made out of serpent skin, and other depictions showed her wearing a cloak with magical protective powers that had serpents' heads as a fringe

But I don't want to go on about Athena/Athene and her counterparts in other countries -- I want to focus on the word "lamia."  So, I did a quick google search and found the following:

This article (blog post?), Mermaids with Dangerous Combs! Lamiak con Peines Peligrosos, posted on 27 January 2011 by Georgina Howard, about lamia/lamiak is very interesting - and it contains a photograph of a shield depicting a lamia:

The lamia on a coat of arms on a house in Oriegi  - in her right hand is the comb, in her
left hand, the "mirror."  Or maybe it's a book - the Book of Knowledge of Good and Evil???

According to legend, the Lamia is a mermaid-like creature with either bird-like feet or a fish’s tail who dwells in mountain springs and streams. Here, in the notoriously misty forest glens of the Basque Country, she can be found combing her long blond hair with a golden comb. Whether it is the golden comb or her golden tresses, I am not sure, but she is often attributed with the disappearance of some lonely shepherd of unmeasured ambition who wanders off into the forest in her pursuit and is consequently never seen again.

So you see, the lamiak that is "half duck-half woman" living in a cave from the original article in the prior post is also something of a nymph, although how a mermaid with a fishtail could frollick about in the woods is beyond my ability to visualize...  On the other hand, a half woman-half bird creature - and we know many of them from ancient depictions (the original Lilith comes to mind, for instance) - could easily hop through woods and lead an unwary shepherd astray...  The lamia in the image, above, would have to stay in water. And yes, this also ties into my ongoing fascination about "visions" of the "Virgin Mary" seen in areas close to or associated with caves and/or rock formations or rocky areas and escarpments and streams or rivers.  I've posted about that at least a couple of times.  Sacred spaces/sacred places -- often associated with the Goddess -- high places, mountains, rock outcroppings, trees, water. 

For further research: 
Wikipedia offers a lot of information about the mythological Lamia.  This connection is particularly intriguing:  Antoninus Liberalis uses Lamia as an alternate name for the serpentine drakaina Sybaris. 
A "drakaina" is a female dragon, sometimes with human features (female), according to Wikipedia. Okay, does anyone remember the movie "Big Trouble in Little China?"  Wasn't there a "dragon lady" in that movie?  Or am I confusing my movies and it's actually in "The Golden Child" that the "dragon lady" appeared" - discreetely, behind a veiling curtain so all one could see was the teasing outline of a beautiful woman elaborately coiffed and crowned - and with a dragon's tail - moving about and sometimes making hissing noises, smoking a cigarette in a 1930's style holder?
Drakaina (mythology)From Wikipedia:

In Greek mythology, a drakaina (Greek: δράκαινα) is a female dragon, sometimes with human-like features. Examples included Campe, Ceto, Delphyne, Echidna, Scylla, Lamia (or Sybaris), Poine, and Python (when represented as female).

Python, slain by Apollo, and the earliest representations of Delphyne are shown as simply gigantic serpents, similar to other Greek dragons. However, although the word "drakaina" is literally the feminine form of drakon (Ancient Greek for dragon or serpent), most drakainas had some features of a human woman. Lamia, Campe, Echidna, and many representations of Ceto, Scylla and Delphyne had the head and torso of a woman.

The drakaina was a monster generally slain only by gods or demigods. Zeus slew Delphyne and Campe, Apollo slew Python, and Argus Panoptes slew Echidna.

Ceto and Echidna were both the mothers of a huge brood of monsters, including other dragon-like creatures. Ceto, according to Hesiod, gave birth to Echidna, as well as Scylla and Ladon, the dragon of the Hesperides. Also according to Hesiod, Echidna gave birth to the Chimera, Cerberus, Orthrus, Nemean lion, Sphinx and the Hydra. (Other ancient authors, such as Hyginus, attribute even more monsters as children of Echidna, such as the Caucasian eagle, Crommyonian sow, Colchian dragon and Scylla and Charybdis.)

Wikipedia "Lamia"
And this from Wikipedia - a drawing of a "lamia" with webbed feet.

From the Online Encyclopedia, an abbreviated description that includes a reference to singing, thus perhaps linking to legends about mermaids who lured unwary sailors to their deaths on the rocks by their beautiful singing, with a link-back to Wikipedia:

1. Lamiak
`Lamiak` (sing.: `lamia`), also called `laminak` (sing. `lamin`). In Basque mythology are creatures with bird-like feet that dwell in rivers and springs. They are comparable with Greco-Roman nymphs. Normally female, they are usually portrayed with a golden comb, that often attracts the unmeasured am...
Found on

Not to be excluded, Keats' poem, Lamia.

And from

The Mythological Origins Of Lamia

In Greek mythology, Lamia was the daughter of Poseidon and Lybie, a deity personification of the country of Libya. Lamia is always depicted as being very beautiful, and so she was according to Greek mythology. Zeus fell in love with Lamia, and carried on an affair with her, until his wife, Hera, found out. When Hera discovered the affair, in a jealous rage she stole all of Lamia’s children, except for Scylla, and killed them. Lamia was overcome with horrible grief, and eventually it drove her insane, transforming her into a half snake, half serpent creature that stole and ate children. Zeus, seeking to appease her in some way, granted Lamia the ability to prophecise, as well as remove her own eyes. The gift of being able to remove her eyes was because Lamia could not stop seeing the faces of her dead children.

The story was popular in its sadness and theme, and made its way throughout the world; Lamia went on to have other children, the lowercase lamia, or instead she became lamia, which were a large species of half snake, half feminine monsters. In other parts of the world, mothers used the story of Lamia to frighten their children into obedience. Later on, authors began to attribute other, more lurid details to Lamia, such as a hermaphroditic penis, which came from the sadly perverse mind of Aristophanes. Whores throughout early folklore and fictional literature were sometimes given the name Lamia. In modern Greek folklore or culture, there is still the Lamia, although now she is Lamiae; a slovenly woman, unclean, and lazy, or exceptionally sdtupid, as well as promiscuous. In other modern Greek fairy tales, Lamia is somewhat similar to the Slavic Baba Yaga. She lives in a tower, eats children or the flesh of would-be heroes, and has magical powers. The hero should either kill her, avoid her, or gain her favor so that she can guide him on whatever quest he’s on.

The tower, of course, is today's rook in western-style chess ("castle" in English, "tower" in various languages). In India, the rook created in chess sets for export to the West was an elephant , often with a howdah on its back, perhaps a call-back to the time in India when the rook and bishop traded places on the chessboard. Check out Jean-Louis Cazaux's site for numerous examples of Indian chess sets featuring elephants for the Kings, Ministers (Queen) and rooks. 

I am wondering about this image from - which did not have a caption or attribution.  It looks Persian or maybe Indian to me.  Can anyone provide further information on it?  I find it very interesting because of the tree image - the Tree of Life? - dead center in the image and the large black serpent underneath the earth nearly centered underneath it.  Now if that doesn't evoke the image of the Nordic World Tree I don't know what does!  The figures under the earth all have serpent tails - that could easily be described as "fish tails", couldn't they.  Interesting, heh?  And I think they're all females, although it's a little hard to tell because I can't enlarnge the image, but they all have long hair flowing down their backs.  And what is that the serpent is doing?  Is it pushing the blue infant through the earth to the surface?  Or is it preparing to suck the blue infant down to the underworld?  There's obviously some kind of ritual going on above-ground - note the drummer and musicians on the left-hand side of the image.  And on the right, the above-ground male figure drawn larger than anything else (other than the serpent), is he a king?  I would like to know what actually is going on in this picture!

Note added on Monday, May 16, 2011:  The half-human female serpents in the image are NOT lamiak; they are, perhaps, nagini.  I found a larger image which makes clear that what I thought was a blue infant is actually Krishna, who dances over the subdued Kaliya Naag in river Yamuna, while his wives are praying to Krishna for his mercy. Also seen on the banks are people of Gokula, Krishna's father Nanda Baba and his brother Balarama. From a Bhagavata Purana manuscript, c. 1640.


Lady Koregan said...

Have you ever read The Once and Future Goddess by Elinor Gadon?

There is something in there about Inanna (I think) weeping because of the giant serpent wrapped around the roots of the sacred tree in her garden. I think the serpent was supposed to be Lilith? I may have this all wrong as it has been years since I've read the book but I remember that clearly. The story was Middle Eastern, Summerian, I think?

Jan said...

Hi Ms. Betty,

No, I have not heard of this book or read it. I don't recall a tale about the weeping Inanna either, so I will do some further digging and see what I can come up with. Thanks for the tip!

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