River in general have some rather dark folklore about them. In Scotland and Ireland, superstition holds that each river demands one life as its due each year. Rivers are a common theme in mythology as gateways to the other side, the land of death. The river Styx, for example, was the portal to the land of the Underworld.
Styx was considered so holy that to swear by it was sacred, even for the Gods. The person making the promise was bound by the river to tell the truth. The water was undrinkable – it would cause even a deity to lose their voice for nine years. If one swore an oath by the Styx and did not keep it, Zeus himself would force the oath breaker to drink from its waters.
In order to cross the river Styx into the land of Hades, one had to pay the ferryman, Charon. The ancient Greeks buried the dead with coins under their tongues to ensure that their loved ones would be carried safely across.
Styx, which translates to “river of hate,” was only one river in the Greek Underworld. The other four rivers in the Underworld were as follows:
Acheron: The “river of woe”
Cocytus: The “river of lamentation”
Phlegethon: The “river of fire”
Lethe: The “river of forgetfulness”
In Norse folklore, the Underworld was known as Niflheim. It was ruled over by the Goddess Hel. It was said to have eleven icy cold rivers, which eventually emptied into the river Styx. The river Slith was a combination of floating blades, blood, tears, waste and poison. The river Gjall was called the “river of echoes.” It had many waterfalls, strong currents, and bones floating in its waters.
Though the connection between rivers and the Underworld in folklore may be a dark theme, rivers have their light side too. It is said that no vampire, demon, ghost, or attacking spirit can follow one across a river.
Rivers with an inspirational overtone far outnumber the darker rivers of myth. The Nile, the Ganga, and the Niger just to name a few, are thought to be life-giving. Millions of lives depend on the waters from these rivers. The Nile River is said to be responsible for Egypt’s existence, as it could never be what it is without her power. The people also credit the river with growth in the areas of friendly personalities, generosity, and love. When it comes to rivers in general, the Water Witch understands that sitting on a riverbank and watching the sun sparkle on the water is actually a way of soaking up the love of the universe.
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