Giants are a common theme in mythology and folklore from cultures around the world, often representing natural forces, obstacles, or the remnants of older, forgotten worlds. Here’s an overview of some of the most notable myths and folklore about giants from various cultures:
In Norse mythology, giants, or Jotnar, are often the enemies of the gods. They are powerful beings who reside in Jotunheim, one of the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. Giants come in various types, including frost giants and fire giants, and play crucial roles in many myths, including the creation of the world and the events leading to Ragnarok, the end of the world.
The Greeks had several myths involving giants. The Gigantomachy was a battle between the gods of Olympus and the Giants, born from the blood of Uranus. Another group of giants in Greek mythology were the Titans, who were overthrown by the Olympian gods. There were also the Cyclopes, one-eyed giants who were skilled craftsmen.
British and Irish Folklore
Giants are prevalent in the folklore of Britain and Ireland. One of the most famous stories is that of Jack the Giant Killer, a young man who outwits and defeats several giants. In Irish mythology, the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill is said to have built the Giant’s Causeway as stepping-stones to Scotland.
The Basques have tales of giants called Jentilak, believed to be the builders of the ancient megaliths found in the Basque Country. According to legend, these giants disappeared after the arrival of Christianity, throwing their idols into the sea.
Native American tribes have various myths involving giants. For example, the Paiute of Nevada talk about a race of red-haired giants called the Si-Te-Cah, who were said to be cannibals. Meanwhile, the Navajo speak of the Ye’iitsoh, a giant who was slain by the hero twins.
In Hindu mythology, there are several giant figures, including the Asuras and Rakshasas, who often battle with the gods. These beings are typically portrayed as powerful demons or anti-gods, embodying the forces of chaos and destruction.
Japanese folklore contains several giant creatures, such as the Oni, formidable ogre-like creatures that often appear as antagonists in folk tales. They are usually depicted as huge, fearsome beings, wielding clubs and causing mischief or harm to humans.
In Slavic mythology, giants are often associated with natural elements. For example, the Russian folklore character Svyatogor is a giant hero who embodies the power of the mountains.
Stone giants from Seneca lands
1883 illustration by the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology depicting the killing of the last of the “stone giants,” a cannibalistic group that came from the “west” to Seneca lands. This is a legend of the Iroquois.