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When Lycaon, the first mythical King of Arcadia, introduced the worship of Zeus into his country, he invited the god to be his guest at a banquet (he made a sacrifice) at which he set before the god a dish cooked from human flesh (made a human sacrifice). Zeus was so disgusted and offended that he pushed the dish away and punished the King by changing him into a wolf; according to some other authors he killed him with a thunderbolt.
Superstitious men in all times believed that magicians, sorcerers, witches and the gods could accomplish changes of this kind at will; the assuming of the forms of animals or other forms is called Lycanthropy,—-a Greek word implying a change to a wolf, as in the case of were-wolves—-but is made to include all changes of former identity.
Witches made themselves invisible by anointing their bodies with an ointment made of human fat; or they could make candles by the light of which they could see, but to others the darkness remained. by digging up the body of a child, cutting off its fingers and pulling wicks through them and using these as candles.
Sorcerers changed themselves into were-wolves or vampires, or they could fly through the air, etc. Belief in the power of sorcerers, fairies, witches, etc., to assume different shapes, or to change others into animals was very widespread. Fairy tales and folklore abound in stories of this character.
Of course, what men could do, the gods could also do, and so we find stories in mythology, especially in Greek mythology, of changes of this kind. It is not the intention to enumerate many such cases; a few will suffice.
A curious story of belief in lycanthropy was found among the ancient Aztecs. The prehistoric Mexicans believed that pregnant women would be changed to beasts, and their children to mice, if any mistakes were made in the rituals of certain solemn sacrifices which were offered by women in an “interesting” condition.
An example of lycanthropy is related about Purusha, a Hindu deity, and the creation of the various animals.
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Alcmene was the wife of Electryon, king of Mycena; Jupiter fell in love with her, and assuming the shape of Electryon, while the latter was away from home, went to Alcmene and slept with her. From this union resulted Hercules, a mortal, who after his death was changed into a god.
Greek legend records that Jupiter fell in love with Antiope, the beautiful daughter of the river god Asopus. Jupiter assumed the shape of a satyr, and committed rape on Antiope. Then Epopeus, King of Sicyon, took her against her will, but he was compelled by her uncle Lycus to give her up again. On the way home she gave birth to the twins Amphion and Zethus; some said that Amphion was the son of Jupiter, while Zethus was the son of Epopeus.
Ovid relates a story that Actaeon, while hunting in the forest with his hounds, came upon a secluded nook where the goddess Diana was bathing in company with her attendant nymphs. The virgin goddess felt so outraged at having been seen naked by Actaeon, that she changed him into a stag, who was then chased by his own dogs and torn to pieces.
Jupiter changed himself into a bull, to abduct Europa; into a golden rain, to find access to a tower in which Danae was confined, after which he accomplished his desires by impregnating her; he changed himself into a swan to approach Leda, whom he made pregnant; and a number of similar stories are told of this amorous god.
Apollo became enamoured of the nymph Daphne and pursued her to commit rape; she appealed to the river god Peneus, who changed her into a laurel tree; Apollo decreed that ever after wreaths of laurel leaves should be conferred on victors, and he himself wore such a wreath.
As a rule, the sex was not changed in such transformations. The Scandinavian god Loki, a spirit of evil, however, changed himself into a mare, and fooled the eight-legged horse of Wodan (Odin).
Many transformations into stars are told, but of these more elsewhere.
The Kingfisher is a bird inhabiting the territory about the Mediterranean Sea (the Alcedo ispida of the ornithologists); it is blue-green above and rich chestnut on the breast. In medieval times it was believed to have been the bird which was sent out from the ark by Noah; at that time however the Kingfisher was a very plain gray bird. It flew straight up to heaven to get a wide survey of the waters of the flood, and in so doing came so near the sun that its breast was scorched to its present tint and its back assumed the color of the sky overhead.
Its dried body kept in a house protected against lightning and kept moths out of the garments.
In Greek mythology the unfortunate Ceyx and Alcyone were transformed into Kingfishers.