Erebus was the primordial Ancient Greek god of Darkness. This sinister, mythic personification, with roots probably going back roughly 3,000 years or more, is linked to a string of disasters that have claimed nearly 1,000 human lives.
Erebus' name has not only lived on through an association with tragedy. It has also been permanently linked, in an uncanny way, to the world's 'edges' -- those outer perimeters (the polar regions) where near-perpetual darkness remains for six months at a time. This is uncanny because it's exactly how the Ancients described the regions Erebus supposedly dwelt in: the regions of darkness that encircled the 'edges' of the world.
The Erebus Chalice is a holy communion vessel, today believed to be one of Antarctica’s oldest relics. It arrived in Antarctica aboard HMS Erebus, a British naval ship, which had cheerfully been named after the Greek god of darkness. The mythic Erebus is a son of Chaos, said to be responsible for dark mists encircling the edges of the earth. He is also the father of Charon, the ferryman who conveys the souls of the recently deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron to Hades.
HMS Erebus sailed to both ‘edges’ of the world in its time—Antarctica and the Arctic. Visiting Antarctica first, under the command of Ross, it gave its name to Mount Erebus. Mount Erebus, located on Ross Island, is the most southern active volcano in the world. You’ve probably already heard of the air-crash disaster that occurred on its slopes, claiming the lives of all 257 souls on board. If not, you can read all about it at the commemorative website. But the Erebus connection to death and disaster certainly doesn’t end there.
Under a new commander, HMS Erebus sailed to its second polar mission, from which it would never return. This was Franklin’s infamously doomed Arctic expedition (LINK) http://www.livescience.com/51057-hms-erebus-shipwreck-artifacts-unveiled.html , which ended with the entire crew becoming stranded, slowly dying of exposure and the mental and physical effects of lead poisoning. It is now confirmed (LINK) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/franklins-doomed-arctic-expedition-ended-gruesome-cannibalism-180956054/?no-ist that some of these men resorted to cannibalism.
HMS Erebus, Launched in 1826
After that, another British naval vessel, the Fisguard, was renamed Erebus and promptly foundered off the English coast in 1914, killing twenty-one. As for that other kind of vessel, the Erebus chalice, it traditionally spent half the year in Christchurch Cathedral, which was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake, burying about twenty people in the rubble. In total, 185 people lost their lives in the quake.
During the austral summer months, the chalice still returns to Antarctica where it is traditionally kept in the Chapel of Snows. It was officially dedicated for use in this Chapel in 1987, during the seventy-five-years anniversary commemorations of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to reach the South Pole, which killed five. The Chapel of Snows was destroyed by fire two years later, just as the previous chapel had been in 1978.
A string of coincidences perhaps. But enough to make you think twice before naming anything 'Erebus.'
Copyright HTR Williams 2015.