Vishap in the Myths of Ancient Armenia

Vishap in the Myths of Ancient Armenia

Vishaps in Armenian mythology were dragons, chthonic creatures. They were represented in a zoomorphic (most often in the form of a snake) or anthropomorphic appearance and personified thunderstorms, tornadoes, or thunderclouds.

According to myths, the big Vishap absorbed the sun, causing an eclipse. Vishaps lived in high mountains, in large lakes, in the sky, in the clouds. Rising to the sky or going down, especially to the lakes, they roared and swept away everything in their path. Thousand years old vishaps had the potency to swallow the whole world. Often during a thunderstorm, aged vishaps from high mountains or lakes rose to the sky, while aerial vishaps descended to earth.

The myths about the people’s struggle against vishaps are based on a common mythological motive about the struggle of chaos with space. With the adoption of Christianity, the myths about vishaps underwent modifications – Vahagn the Dragon Reaper was supplanted by archangel Gabriel and angels who engaged in battle with vishaps that in thunderstorms together with evil spirits tried to swallow the sun. The thunderclouds represented the fiery bodies of vishaps, the thunder was their roar, while the lightning was the arrow of Gabriel or the staff or rod of angels.

Angels eventually lifted the vishap to the sun whose rays turned it into ashes.

In the Armenian epos, vishaps were monsters that possessed water sources. They forced people to sacrifice their women to them. Eventually, the water and the women were liberated by the heroes who killed the vishaps.

The epic “Vipasank” describes vishaps living at the foot of Masis. These vishaps were the descendants of vishap Azhdahak and his wife Anuish, “the mother of vishaps” (these descendants are sometimes called “Vishapids” or “Vishapunk”).

The leader and father of the vishaps Argavan invited King Artashes and his sons to dinner at his palace. During lunch, Argavan tried to machinate against the king. The enraged Artashes, returning to Artashat, sent his son Mazhan with an army to destroy the vishap. However, Mazhan wasn’t able to fulfill the order – the vishap killed them him along with his soldiers.

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