Continued from MurderMost Foul – Part 1
The Volsunga Saga of the Norse tells of Signy, who is different, as in the fact that she did not quite have to battle emotions in murdering her children. Needless to say, that this complicated tale sure is a saga in itself. Let us read this story in slight details.
Signy, the daughter of a king was married against her wishes to Siggeir. During the wedding, a one-eyed man (Odin in disguise) came and plunged a magnificent sword in a tree and said that anybody who could take the sword out, could keep it, and left. One by one everybody tried, but none could take the sword out. After everybody had tried, Sigmund, one of the nine brothers of Signy and also her twin, tried and pull it out without much effort. All praised him for the feat, but Siggeir offered to buy the sword from him and offered him three times its weight in gold. Sigmund declined leaving Siggeir disappointed.
Siggeir decided to leave immediately the next day after the wedding, as he claimed the weather was clear, with a promise from the King that all of them would visit him after three months. Signy expressed her reluctance to go with her husband and even said that she foresaw grave misfortunes, but her father would not listen to her.
Three months later, when the king and his sons came to visit Siggeir, they had to wage a battle against Siggier, and soon the king was dead and all the brothers taken prisoners. Siggier intended to kill them, but on the persuasion of Signy, he decided to leave them in the forest with their feet bound. But Siggeir’s old mother who was skilled in sorcery managed to kill all but Sigmund, who was saved by the help of Signy, resulting in the death of the old woman.
|Sigmund Bound in the Woods P. Wilson Illustration, 1900|
Sigmund decided to stay back in the forest and along with Signy started to plot revenge against Siggeir. Signy in the meanwhile had given birth to two sons. When the eldest was about ten, she sent him to Sigmund, to see if he could be of any help. Sigmund gave the son a sack of meal and asked him to knead some dough for him for baking bread. On returning he found that the child had done nothing as he was scared to touch the sack since he found something moving inside the sack. Sigmund concluded that the child was of no use to him and sent message to his sister. When Signy came to know the reason, she ordered Sigmund to kill the child as he did not deserve to live. The second child met with the same fate. In both the cases, the children were killed under the order of the mother.
Signy one day took the disguise of another woman and went to her brother who could not recognize her and stayed with him for three nights, after which she came back to her place and assumed her earlier form. Soon she was pregnant with a son. She later gave birth to a large and strong son and named him Sinfjotli, who obviously resembled Sigmund in every way. When Sinfjotli reached the age of ten, Signy sent him to Sigmund, who gave him the same tasks as the children earlier.
When Sigmund returned, not only was the dough kneaded, but bread was baked too. He asked Sinfjotli, if he found anything in the sack, to which the child replied that there was serpent in it, but he kneaded it in the dough. It was a poisonous serpent. Sigmund was impressed with the child, but realized that he was too young to assist him in his work. So he started to train him, but would often be surprised to see him deliver beyond expectations, not knowing of course that the child was his own blood.
Soon it was time to take revenge. Sigmund took Sinfjotli to his Siggeir’s house and as planned with Signy, they hid at one place. While they were hiding, two of the sons of Signy and Siggeir came there and saw them hiding. They rushed to report to their father, but Signy once again ordered Sigmund to kill the two children. This time, Sigmund could not do so, but Sinfjotli, caught hold of the two, killed them and threw them in the hall.
Soon a battle broke out, but the two were overpowered and tied. Signy again came to their rescue and with the help of a sword, released the two. They headed straight to the place where Siggeir was sleeping and killed him. Later the entire palace was put to flames but Signy decided to perish in it, as she had avenged the death of her father and brothers. She however, didn’t regret murdering her four sons and sleeping with her own brother to give birth to a son, whose sole purpose was to take revenge.
The above sure has a disturbing feel to it, as the killing was very cold-blooded and not an iota of remorse was found in the woman who orders the killing just because they were of ‘no use’ to them in killing their own father.
While some of the stories have the nauseating quality, what with the detailed descriptions of slit-throats, blood, consuming of hearts and goblets of skulls, the plots also have an ability to shock and make for a gripping tale, however gory they be. Also, progressively, the murderers seem to have something heroic in them, as portrayed by the later writers or re-tellers of the tales. While the crimes have not been overlooked, the cause has definitely been given some more importance, than what might have been done in the earlier versions. While moral questions around the crimes remained, the question of kinship and familial affinity in many of them and the justification of retribution for abandonment in the case of Medea, got more attention, in the later retellings.
While murdering of children is not very common in the case of Hindu mythology, we do have examples of people sacrificing their sons/daughters on the command of gods, much like Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, resulting in resurrection of the child later. Even if we see, the beheading of Ganesha in a fit of anger as a case of filicide, the resurrection of the son, does not quite reach the levels of cold-blooded murder as we have seen in the some of the myths earlier.
Mythology is the mirror of the society in which such stories took birth and shape. While it is important to understand that this was a primeval society and such stories like all, had a particular function. These stories either highlight the hurt a woman goes through on being spurned and the extent she would go to avenge the insult, or went on to prove the power of kinship for certain individuals, women in some of the cases discussed earlier. From a narrative perspective, they provided a shock-value and gave rise to a sense of disgust or hatred for certain characters, thus once again setting a benchmark for what ought not to be done. Be it for fear of retribution or establishing a not-acceptable behavioural rule, these stories were told with a purpose.
However, the presence of such acts in modern times is quite unexplainable. No justification like honour-killings, poverty, etc. can be given, and the present case of Sheena Bora, seems to defy all reasons. Society has moved far from rule-setting and establishing norms of behavior. A murder is a murder and gruesome murder of one’s own child is unacceptable in any cultural milieu. Modern day Medeas, Procnes and Signys have to device ways of retribution which does not involve the murder of their children.
While mythology seems to have served its purpose for the larger audience, greed and lust seems to have gripped a few in the modern society beyond expectation. Is this a case of unbridled greed for money and power, or does this expose the underbelly of the high society, which thrives on charades and subterfuges, is beyond the simple thinking of ordinary mortals more. Besides satiating the hunger for intrigues and melodrama in people at large, the Sheena Bora murder undoubtedly, will go down in the annals of history, as the murder most foul, unless human beings manage to dig pits deeper than what they have reached.