Incest in folklore

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Halga seducing his own daughter Yrsa, by Jenny Nyström (1895).

Incest in folklore is found in many countries and cultures in the world.

Greek[edit]

In Greek mythology, Zeus and Hera were brother and sister as well as husband and wife. They were the children of Cronus and Rhea (also married siblings). Cronus and Rhea, in turn, were children of Uranus and Gaia (a son who took his mother as consort, in some versions of the myth). Cronus and Rhea's siblings, the other Titans, were all also married siblings like Nyx and Erebus. Sea god Phorcys fathered many offspring by his sister Ceto. Myrrha committed incest with her father, Theias, and bore Adonis.

Sophocles' tragic play Oedipus the King features the ancient Greek king inadvertently consummating an incestuous relationship with his mother.

Persephone is the daughter of Demeter and her brother Zeus, and becomes the consort of her uncle Hades. Some legends indicate that her father impregnated her and begat Zagreus and the Iacchus version of Dionysus.

Norse[edit]

In Norse mythology, Loki accuses Freyr and Freyja of committing incest, in Lokasenna. He also says that Njörðr had Freyr with his sister. This is also indicated in the Ynglinga saga, which says that incest was traditional among the Vanir.

In Norse legends, the hero Sigmund and his sister Signy murdered her children and begot a son, Sinfjötli. When Sinfjötli had grown up, he and Sigmund murdered Signy's husband Siggeir. The element of incest also appears in the version of the story used in Wagner's opera-cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, in which Siegfried is the offspring of Siegmund and his sister Sieglinde.

The legendary Danish king Hrólfr kraki was born from an incestuous union of Halgi and Yrsa.

Egyptian[edit]

In Egyptian mythology, the gods frequently married their siblings. For example, Shu and Tefnut are brother and sister and they produced another pair of gods, Geb and Nut. Their children were Isis, Osiris, Set and Nephthys; Isis married Osiris, and Set with Nephthys.

Chinese[edit]

In Chinese mythology, Fu Xi was a god-king who took his sister Nüwa as his bride.

Icelandic[edit]

In Icelandic folklore a common plot involves a brother and sister (illegally) conceiving a child. They subsequently escape justice by moving to a remote valley. There they proceed to have several more children. The man has some magical abilities which he uses to direct travelers to or away from the valley as he chooses. The siblings always have exactly one daughter but any number of sons. Eventually the magician allows a young man (usually searching for sheep) into the valley and asks him to marry the daughter and give himself and his sister a civilized burial upon their deaths. This is subsequently done.

Indonesian[edit]

In the ancient Indonesian folklore of Tangkuban Perahu, Dayang Sumbi expelled her son, Sangkuriang, for his disobedience. After many years of expulsion, Sangkuriang came home and he saw Dayang Sumbi, who had long been granted the power of eternal youth by the gods. Sangkuriang fell in love with Dayang Sumbi. Sangkuriang intended on marrying Dayang Sumbi without realising she was his mother. However, Dayang Sumbi recognised Sangkuriang's birthmark. In order to prevent the marriage from taking place, Dayang Sumbi asked Sangkuriang to build a dam on the river Citarum and to build a large boat to cross the river, both before the sunrise. Sangkuriang meditated and summoned mythical ogre-like creatures -buto ijo or green giant(s)- to do his bidding. Dayang Sumbi saw that the tasks were almost completed and called on her workers to spread red silk cloths east of the city, to give the impression of impending sunrise. Sangkuriang was fooled, and upon believing that he had failed, kicked the dam and the unfinished boat, resulting in severe flooding and the creation of Tangkuban Perahu from the hull of the boat.

British/Irish[edit]

In the Old Irish saga Tochmarc Étaíne ("The Wooing of Étaín"), Eochaid Airem, the high king of Ireland is tricked into sleeping with his daughter, whom he mistakes for her mother Étaín. The child of their union becomes the mother of the legendary king Conaire Mor.

In some versions of the medieval British legend of King Arthur, Arthur accidentally begets a son by his half sister Morgause in a night of blind lust, then seeks to have the child killed when he hears of a prophecy that it will bring about the undoing of the Round Table. The child survives and later becomes Mordred, his ultimate nemesis.

Vietnamese[edit]

In ancient Vietnamese folklore, there is a tale of a brother and a sister. As children, the brother and sister fought over a toy. The brother smashes a stone over his sister's head, and the girl falls down unconscious. The boy thinks he has killed his sister, and afraid of punishment, he flees. Years later, by coincidence, they meet again, fall in love, and marry without knowing they are siblings. They build a house along a seashore, and the brother becomes a fisherman while his sister tends to the house. Together they have a son. One day, the brother discovers a scar on his wife's head. She tells him about the childhood fight with her brother, and the brother realizes that he has married his own sister. Overwhelmed with guilt over his incest, the brother goes out on the sea. Every day, the sister climbs to the top of the hill to look for her brother, but he never comes back. She died in waiting and became "Hon Vong Phu" ("the stone waiting for her husband").

Other[edit]

In fairy tales of Aarne-Thompson folktale type 510B, the persecuted heroine, the heroine is persecuted by her father, and most usually, the persecution is an attempt to marry her, as in Allerleirauh or Donkeyskin. This was taken up into the legend of Saint Dymphna.

Several Child Ballads have the motif of incest between brothers and sisters who are raised apart. This is usually unwitting (as in the The Bonny Hind and Sheath and Knife, for example), but always brings about a tragic end.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

'The Scripture of the Holy Bible: The Old Testament: The Book of Genesis: The Seven Days of Creation, The Creation of Adam, Cain's Fate: A Wife, A Descendent Line Inheriting Cain's Established Authority, and, a Final Dwelling, in the Land Nod