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Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Mount Mazama was a giant volcano located in the Cascades. Around 7700 years ago the volcano erupted so violently that the top mile of the mountain exploded and the remaining cone collapsed. The vast caldera became a deep empty hole—which soon filled up with water and became a beautiful lake—Crater Lake in Oregon.

Crater Lake is indeed very lovely, but it is also disquieting. There are no rivers or streams which empty into it (after all it is located atop what remains of a vast mountain) but the snowfall in the region is so high that the lake easily fills up with extremely clear melt water. The clear water combines with the lake’s great depth to absorb all hues of light other than indigo—so the lake is dark blue. The deepest point is 1,943 feet (592 m) below the surface, which makes it the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest lake (by average) in the world—deeper even than the otherworldly depths of Lake Baikal. Originally the lake had no fish (although they were added by humans in the twentieth century). Its waters are extremely cold and items which fall into it decay slowly.

An antique photo of a Klamath chief

An antique photo of a Klamath chief

The Klamath people, a Native American tribe who have long lived in the region, have a sacred myth which tells about the formation of the lake. Long ago, there were two great spirits, Skell, spirit of the sky, and Llao, the spirit of the underworld. Llao lived beneath Mount Mazama and sometimes he would leave the underworld and venture to the top of the mountain, where he could almost reach Skell’s dwelling. One day, as he was watching the world from the mountain top, Llao saw the beautiful daughter of the chief of the Klamath people. He eagerly paid suit to the lovely maiden, but he was hideous and she spurned his advances.

Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta

In anger Llao began to hurl fire and stones onto the Klamath people, and they begged their greatest benefactor, Skell to help them. Skell came down to the very lowest point of his kingdom–the top of Mount Shasta–and began to battle Llao, who stood at the highest point of his realm—the top of Mount Mazama.   Soon the spirit battle became more tumultuous as other spirits of the sky, the land, and the underworld joined in. The two greatest medicine men of the Klamath saw that the war of so many spirits was destroying the world so they hurled themselves down into the volcano’s caldera as a sacrifice to appease the angry spirits. The lesser spirits of the underworld were indeed appeased and ceased their fighting, but Llao’s wrath at his rejection was not sated. He continued to battle Skell but he was overwhelmed and defeated. Skell hurled vast magic at Llao and the entire mountain exploded.

Mount Mazama at the Height of Its Glory (Paul Rockwood)

Mount Mazama at the Height of Its Glory
(Paul Rockwood)

Llao fled down into the huge hole which was created. Some say he died there from Skell’s magic, whereas other’s believe he lurks somewhere in the underworld (with Gong Gong maybe?) waiting for the right moment to make his return. Whatever the case, Skel disliked the site of the vast pit in the world and he made sure to fill it with water and keep it filled. Looking at aerial pictures of Crater Lake, it is hard not to respect the narrative wisdom of the Klamath story tellers. Few things on Earth look more like an entrance to the underworld, and even the most literal volcanologist would have to concede that volcanic calderas are a place where the world below comes most directly to Earth’s surface.

NASA's Landsat 5 satellite captured this true-color image of Crater Lake National Park in South-Central Oregon last September

NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite captured this true-color image of Crater Lake National Park in South-Central Oregon last September

Here at Ferrebeekeeper we have written a great deal about Echidna and her monstrous offspring. But what about her erstwhile spouse Typhon, the hideous flaming giant made of snakes? Today’s news from Europe reminds us that we should not forget him, for Mount Etna on Sicily is erupting again.

A Reuters photo of the January 12th 2010 Etna eruption taking place behind the Sicilian village of Milo

When Typhon challenged the Olympian gods and nearly destroyed them with his chaotic rampage, Zeus barely defeated the monster by hurling a flaming mountain onto him.  According to myth, Typhon still struggles beneath the bulk of Mount Etna.  His convulsions cause earthquakes, explosions, and eruptions of boiling rock.  Here are some pictures taken today of the volcano’s fury.

An Eruption on the Southeast Crater cone of Etna (AP)

Painting by Fantalov

Halloween is approaching and, in the spirit of the season, I would like to present some great artworks of magnificent monsters from classical mythology (an exercise which should also help flesh out the deities of the underworld category).  Leading up to October 31st I am going to highlight paintings of the different offspring of Echidna, the “mother of monsters,” whose brood cast a long, many-headed shadow over Greek mythology. But we come to an immediate problem: Echidna herself is under-represented in art (indeed her whole story is shrouded in uncertainty).  Likewise, Typhon, Echidna’s husband and the “father of monsters,” is not as familiar to artists or poets as his dark progeny.

Echidna was an offspring of Ceto and Phorcys, primordial sea gods who ruled the ocean before the Olympian gods seized power.  Possessing the body of a snake and the torso of a woman, Echidna was a fearsome creature in her own right. When Gaia, the great Earth mother, gave birth to her last and greatest child, the monstrous giant, Typhon, Echidna wed him and joined his rebellion against the Olympian Gods.  This was a very bold romantic choice because Typhon was no Adonis.  The giant has been described as being as tall as the stars with a hundred snakes in lieu of each arm.  His legs were two enormous viper coils.  His beard was a monstrous mop of ragged hair–which was presumably fire proof since flame flashed from his eyes.  Typhon’s body was covered with wings and his voice was an unearthly combination of beast noises.

Typhon

For a while it looked as though Tiphon would overthrow the Olympians: the great monster tore off Zeus’ muscles and kept them hidden in a cave. Only with the wily intervention of the trickster gods Pan and Hermes did Zeus recover his strength.  In a final conflict of power, the King of the Gods hurled the mountain Etna upon Typhon, imprisoning the giant beneath the great mass.  To this day the volcano heaves and belches flame. Echidna escaped (to rear her children sired by Typhon) and Zeus allowed her to do so in order that the monsters would provide a future challenge to heroes and demi-gods.  The offspring she had are as follows:

I think you will like the family pictures from this group!

Echidna Nursing her Brood (from D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths)

In some stories Echidna preyed on mortals until finally the hundred eyed giant Argus put an end to her (I wish someone painted that fight!).  In other tales she escaped to a lair deep beneath the earth where she bides her time, waiting to avenge her husband and her children. As a last peculiar note, that lovable and peaceful monotreme the echidna is named after her, not because of its ferocity, but because it was so strange and alarming to European taxonomists…

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