Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The mythology of Symphogear's relics

During my translation of the keywords I had done research into the mythological basis for each of the relics. This information was scattered in various posts on this blog and on my tumblr blog. I decided to compile it into one post for easy access.

In Norse mythology, Gungnir is the spear of the god Odin. Odin is of course a well-known mythological god who is often associated with healing, death, royalty, knowledge, battle, sorcery and frenzy. Gungnir in the Old Norse language means “swaying one.” The spear was created by a group of dwarves known as the Sons of Ivaldi, under the supervision of the blacksmith Dvalin. Some stories say the spear is made from the wood of the world tree, Yggdrasil. Furthermore, according to the valkyrie Sigrdrifa, there are magic runes on the tip of the spear that were carved by Odin himself. Gungnir is described as being perfectly balanced so that it will always strike the target, no matter the skill or strength of the wielder.

In one story, Odin uses Gungnir to break the sword of Siegmund, which then leads to Siegmund’s death. Later Siegfried, Siegmund’s son, encounters Odin and breaks Gungnir in two – perhaps an influence for Gungir’s two distinct appearances in Symphogear. It’s also interesting to note that Odin commanded “special warriors” sometimes referred to as the Úlfhéðnar, or more commonly known as Berserkers. They were known for their intense anger in battle that was unfazed by injuries. No doubt an influence for Hibiki’s “berserker” state.

Although this is sometimes known as Odin’s bow, it actually belongs to the god Ullr. Part of the reason for this misattribution is because Ullr is a very old god, one whose mythology pre-dates when Norse myths actually began being written down. Texts seem to indicate at one point he was a god of high standing, although not much is known now outside of the fact that he was a god of archery, hunting, and the winter. People often invoked his name during battles in hopes of aid. His name means “glory.” He is said to be the stepson of Thor. Ullr resides in a place called Ýdalir, or “Yew Dales.”

Yew wood was preferred over other trees for making bows. In Japanese, this particular wood is called “Ichii” which establishes the first half of the weapon’s name. The “val” part is less clear. Some people say that it’s a warped pronunciation of “ichii no tani” (the Japanese name for Ýdalir), and others think it derives from a shortened form of “ballista” (a giant crossbow-like weapon). Considering it’s appearance in Symphogear this seems likely the case. The bow possessed by Ullr was said to have the power of 10 arrows for every one it released.

Ame no Habakiri
This is a sword from Japanese mythology known as the “Snake-Slayer of Heaven” among other names. It belongs to the Japanese god Susanoo, the god of the sea and storms. The sword got its name from the fact that Susanoo used it to slay the 8-headed snake dragon Orochi. The sword was broken during the battle with Orochi and is said to have been later enshrined at the Isonokami Shrine in Nara, Japan. An actual sword thought to be Ame no Habakiri was unearthed at an excavation of the shrine in 1878, and remains there today. It was 120cm long and made of iron. As a result of his battle with Orochi, Susanno also came into possession of another famous Japanese sword – Kusanagi.

Within French historical literature there is legend of a sword known as "Durendal." The sword was wielded by a paladin named Roland who served under King Charlemagne (aka Charles the Great). The origin of the sword is mysterious as there are multiple interpretations of how the sword came into Roland's possession, however several versions of the story detail that it was originally forged by the master blacksmith known as Wayland the Smith (from Norse mythology). The sword was then given to an angel who delivered it to the King who then bestowed it upon Roland. In legend, Durendal is known to be perpetually sharp and indestructible, which helped Roland achieve many victories in battle. However during a particular fight Roland was faced with an overwhelming number of enemies from an attacking army. While he was successful in holding off the opposition long enough for allied forces to retreat, he was left with fatal wounds.

Before his death Roland attempted to destroy Durendal to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. Using all his pent up rage and pain he swung the sword repeatedly against a giant rock trying to break it, but instead he ended up creating La Brèche de Roland (a large gap in the steep cliffs within the Pyrenees mountain range). Eventually he came to the conclusion that the sword could not be destroyed with human strength and hid it underneath his body. The local folklore of one town in France claims that instead of hiding the sword, Roland threw it and it was embedded in a cliff where a fragment of it still exists today (but there are claims it is a fake). It's interesting to note that Durendal itself was known to contain multiple sacred relics inside of its golden hilt. These included: a tooth from Saint Peter, the blood of Saint Basil, a strand of hair from Saint Denis and a piece of robe worn by Saint Mary. Also the supposed forger of the sword, Wayland the Smith, was known for forging other famous swords such as Caliburn (later known as Excalibur) and the magic sword Gram which was wielded by Siegfried when he broke Gungnir in two.

Solomon's Cane
This was likely based off a grimoire (a textbook on magic) known as The Lesser Key of Solomon, an anonymous text that was written in the 17th-century. The framing story of the text revolves around King Solomon capturing demons with a magic ring and forcing them to explain themselves to him. The book is divided into different sections and the first, called Ars Goetia, details information regarding the summoning of demons - in particular the 72 different demons that King Solomon allegedly confined in a vessel and obliged to work for him. As you'll recall, the keyword of Solomon's Cane mentions the Noise are controlled through 72 different commands – not a coincidence. It’s also relevant to note that King Solomon once held an item regarded as the Scepter of Israel. The scepter was depicted as a "scepter to rule in righteousness." Basically the idea is that the symbols of royalty are: a crown, a royal robe, a royal ring and a scepter with which a king would hold in his hand as a symbol of power and authority over his people. Solomon's Cane as Symphogear presents it is likely a combination of various things that were supposedly held by King Solomon: a scepter/ cane (to rule the people), a magic ring (to rule the demons) and a grimoire with which he imparted this knowledge to others.

In one of the stories from the Bible a group of Israelites on a journey led by Moses begin to speak out and complain about God. In response God sends fiery serpents which bite and poison them. In order to save those who repented, God instructs Moses to make a brass snake. Moses takes the brass snake and hangs it from a pole and lifts it above the ailing people, they are cured when they look up at it. A thousand or so years later, King Hezekiah, in a time of religious reform, has the brass snake destroyed. He refers to it as “Nehushtan” which in Hebrew (NChShThN) literally just means “a piece of brass” but also contains a pun. The first three letters, NChSh, mean "serpent" and the final two, ThN, mean "dragon." Some magical theorists claim that Nehushtan, the brass serpent, resides in the upper astral plane and possesses redemptive powers. The fact that it healed ailing people explains its regenerative powers in Symphogear, but there is no clear reason why it appears as an armor.

An ancient Chinese bronze mirror, referred to in Japanese as “shinjukyo” (literally: deity and beast mirror). They are usually decorated with images of gods and legendary creatures from Chinese mythology. Although originally produced in China, the mirrors found their way to Japan during the Three Kingdoms era when Chinese Emperor Cao Rui sent Japanese Queen Himiko numerous presents, including one hundred bronze mirrors. One side is of course a polished mirror, while the other is adorned with various designs which Japanese archaeologists split into three categories: sankakuen (三角縁, "triangular-rimmed"), gamontai (画文帯, "wide image-band"), and hirabuchi (平縁, "flat-rimmed"). Based on the appearance of the mirror in Symphogear, it would be classified as a “hirabuchi-shinjukyo.”

Shul Shagana and Igalima
This one is a little unclear as there are many interpretations due to cross-references of the same gods with different names in different cultures. First, there’s the Sumerian storm god Ningirsu. He was married to Bau (or Baba). His two sons were Igalimma, who was a gatekeeper and Šulšagana, who was a butler. They were minor gods, not weapons. Alternatively, Ig-aima was a scimitar that belonged to the Mesopotamian War God Zababa. The name carries the meaning of “green blade.” Sul-sagana was also a scimitar that belonged to the same god and carried the meaning of “red blade.” Zababa was the patron deity of the ancient Sumerian city called Kish.

The root source for these are muddled for a number of a reasons. It mainly has to do with differences in research and mythological literature between the languages. I think only Japanese research references these two as weapons, not to mention Zababa being a female god. Whereas if you read anything in English, they are sons and Zababa is a male. The reason Zababa might be thought of as female in Japan is that he was paired with (and sometimes mixed) with the famous female god Ishtar (aka Inana).

In Irish mythology there was a king known as Nuada Airgetlám. He was the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a tribe of gods that came to Ireland. The tribe fought the inhabitants of the island for control of the land, and in the resulting battle Nuada lost an arm. After this he lost the kingship, as the tribe tradition stated the king must be physically perfect. However the king who replaced him led to the tribe becoming disgruntled and after seven years Nuada became king again. At this point he had his arm replaced with a working silver arm by the physician known as Dian Cecht (the Irish god of healing) and a goldsmith named Credne. The name Airgetlám means “silver hand.” Nuada also had a sword which was considered one of the Four Treasures of his tribe. Some claimed it was the famous Irish “sword of light,” Claíomh Solais, however there is slim literary grounds for this. In Symphogear, Maria gains the use of a sword in the final episode of G which made some people think that Claíomh Solais was her relic. However, it seems more likely that the Airgetlám relic is actually Nuada’s silver arm. The fact Maria’s gear forms a silver hand during the Vitalization attack seems to support this, as does the specific use of “白銀” (lit. silver metal) in the official keywords to describe Maria’s relic.


  1. I may have read Wayland the Smith as Waylon the Smithers.

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  3. Excellent research. Very informative and insightful. Keep up the great work!