Divine twins

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ašvieniai, commonly called the little horses, on the rooftop of a house in Nida, Lithuania

The divine twins are a mytheme of Proto-Indo-European religion. The two brothers are youthful horsemen who are either gods or demigods represented as rescuers and healers.[1]

Similar mythemes can sometimes be found in non-Indo-European cultures.

The Hindu twin gods: Nara-Narayana
Dioscuri paintings flank the entrance to the House of the Dioscuri in Pompeii.

Indo-European examples[edit]

  • Anglo-Saxon Hengest and Horsa, said to have led the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in their invasion of Britain in the 5th century. Tradition lists Hengist as the first of the Jutish kings of Kent.
  • Norse Freyr and Freyja were the son and daughter of Njord. Both were deities of fertility.
  • Slavic Lada and Lado, female and male personifications of beauty and fertility (sometimes seen as twins, other times as mother and son).


Various scholars have attempted to reconstruct the outlines of the original myth, based on the remnants common to myths from known Indo-European cultures.

O'Brien (1982) reconstructs a horse goddess with twin offspring, pointing to Gaulish Epona, Irish Macha (the twins reflected in Macha's pair, Liath Macha and Dub Sainglend), Welsh Rhiannon, and Eddaic Freyja in the tale of the construction of the walls of Asgard, seeing a vestige of the birth of hippomorphic twins in Loki in the form of a mare (in place of Freyja) giving birth to eight-legged Sleipnir.[5] The myths surrounding Hengest and Horsa could come from a common source, since they were descendants of Woden and Hengest's name meant "stallion" (in German: Hengst).

Shapiro (1982) points to Slavic Volos and Veles, and collects the following comparative properties:

  • sons of the sky god
  • brothers of the sun maiden
  • association with horses
  • dual paternity
  • saviors at sea
  • astral nature
  • magic healers
  • warriors and providers of divine aid in battle
  • divinities of fertility
  • association with swans
  • divinities of dance
  • closeness to human beings
  • protectors of the oath
  • assisting at birth
  • founders of cities

Related themes[edit]

One recurring element in the divine twin theme is that, while identical, one is divine and the other is human. This points to other characters which partially reflect the mytheme, such as:


  • O'Brien, Steven (1982). "Dioscuric elements in Celtic and Germanic mythology". JIES. 10: 117–136.
  • Shapiro, Michael (1982). "Neglected evidence of Dioscurism (divine twinning) in the Old Slavic pantheon". JIES. 10: 137–166.
  • Ward, Donald (1968). The Divine Twins: An Indo-European myth in Germanic tradition.
  • Joseph, Brian D. (1983). "Old English Hengest as an Indo-European Twin Hero". The Mankind Quarterly. 24: 105–115.
  • Davidson, Olga M. (1987). "Aspects of Dioscurism in Iranian kingship: The case of Lohrasp and Goshtasp in the Shāhnāme of Ferdowsi". Edebiyāt. 1: 103–115.
  • Nagy, Gregory (1990). "Patroklos "Concepts of afterlife, and the Indic triple fire" and "Phaethon, Sappho's Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas: 'Reading' the symbols of Greek lyric"". Greek Mythology and Poetics. Harvard University.
  • Frame, Douglas (2007). "Hippota Nestor". Greek Mythology and Poetics. Harvard University.
  • Frame, Douglas. "Achilles and Patroclus as Indo-European Twins: Homer's Take". Greek Mythology and Poetics. Harvard University.
  • Nagy, Gregory. "Achilles and Patroklos as models for the twinning of identity". Greek Mythology and Poetics. Harvard University.


  1. ^ Dylan takes on the nature of a sea creature when he comes into contact with water, while Lleu is related to the pan-Celtic plural hero god Lugus. In the related Irish story of the birth of Lugh Lámfada, one version indicates that Lugh was a surviving triplet, whose twin brothers were drowned.
  2. ^ Purusha is described as having a thousand heads and a thousand feet. He emanated Viraj, the female creative principle, from which he is reborn in turn after the world was made out of his parts. Purusha was dismembered by the devas – his mind is the Moon, his eyes are the Sun, and his breath is the wind. This recalls the dismemberment mytheme, for example that of Like Viraj-Shakti to Purusha, so does Isis recompose the body of Osiris in order to have his offspring, Horus, who then is Osiris' twin.


  1. ^ Ward, Donald (1968). The Divine Twins: An Indo-European myth in Germanic tradition.
  2. ^ "Castor and Polydeuces". Who's Who in Classical Mythology. London, UK: Routledge. 2002.
  3. ^ Hamacher, Duane W. "The Sumerians and Gemini: Sumerian astronomical interpretations as origins of the divine horse twins and solar chariots in Indo-European mythology" (PDF) (Unpublished manuscript). p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 October 2010. Retrieved 1 November 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ Vīķe-Freiberga, Vaira (2005). "Saule". In Jones, Lindsay (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion. 12 (2nd ed.). Thomson Gale. pp. 8131–8135.
  5. ^ O'Brien, Steven (1982). "Dioscuric elements in Celtic and Germanic mythology". Journal of Indo-European Studies. 10: 117–136.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]