“Nine Nights” in Indo-European Myth

  • Signe Cohen
Keywords: nine nights, Indo-European mythology, sidereal lunar month, underworld

Abstract

A time span of “nine nights” is frequently mentioned in ancient Indo-European literature. The Norse god Oðinn hangs on the world tree Yggdrasill for “nine long nights”; his magical gold ring multiplies itself every nine nights; the Norse fertility god Freyr must wait nine nights to be united with his beloved, and Oðinn’s son must ride for nine nights to the underworld to attempt to get his dead brother Baldr back. The Greek goddess Demeter must search for her lost daughter Persephone for nine days and nights before finding her in the underworld, and Hesiod claims that it will take an anvil nine days nights to fall from earth down to Tartarus. Hindus celebrate the nine-night festival of Navrātri, associated with ghosts and the dead, and Zoroastrians perform the nine-night ritual of Barashnûm to purify those who have come into contact with the dead. In this paper, I argue that there is abundant evidence of a “nine night week” attested in the myths and stories of most ancient Indo-European cultures. But why nine nights in particular? I propose that the nine night cycle is connected with the sidereal lunar month and with symbolic representations of death, danger, and the underworld.

Published
2019-12-25