In tale of Kurbads and many other epic folk tales, hero always fights huge evil creatures that have lot of heads. Such fights mostly happens by formula: in the first day hero meets monster (ogre or devil) with one head, next day monster with three heads and finally one with nine heads and this battle is always the hardest. The monster itself is a manifestation of some old evil deity, like Jods or Velns for example, and whole fight is poetically concealed representation of the ritual of initiation.
The initiation is a ritual when young boy, after going through various hardships, becomes a man. Such rituals, more or less complicated, were almost in every pagan society. And not only in pagan world. Even today it is still here, just take a look at school and education system – the same initiation rituals can be observed!
The Nine-headed is the hardest monster to overcome and hero almost lost to him, due to the mystic fact Nine-headed is able to regenerate back his already chopped off heads. But finally, of course, hero wins – though sometimes he even needs the help from friends to overcome. After this battle hero feels that he is ready now (became a man) for something more and goes out to explore the world.
There is no pictorial evidences left of such monsters, so we can only imagine how they looked.
But why monsters have 1, 3 and 9 heads? Because of, these are magic numbers in Latvian/Baltic mythology and pagan traditions. The number 9 and especially 9 + 9 + 9 (in Latvian it is called “Treijdeviņi” – thrice nine) is the magic formula which means, in simple words – the most biggest, the Universe, the fulfilled. The number 3 here is just a smaller part of number 9.
It also means an ancient circle of time, like 9 days in a week. There is a folk song about Sacred tree, which symbolizes pagan year and time counting:
Sajāja brammaņi augstajā kalnā, Rode together priests on a high hill,
Sakāra zobenus svētajā kokā. Hung up the swords on a Sacred tree.
Svētajam kokam deviņi zari, Sacred tree have nine branches,
Ik zara galā deviņi ziedi, Every branch have nine blossoms,
Ik zieda galā deviņas ogas. Every blossom have nine berries.
It can be decrypted as 9 x 9 x 9 = 729, which is almost 365 days plus 365 nights (as our ancestors counted nights separately) = one whole year.
We can found 9 + 9 + 9 in many folk songs and magic formulas. To travel into unknown world or into the world beyond the sun is to travel across 9 + 9 + 9 lands, 9 + 9 + 9 hills and 9 + 9 + 9 seas. To make magic words working, you must say them 9 times and so on.
Pērkoņa tēvam Father Pērkons
Deviņi dēli: Have nine sons:
Trīs spēra, trīs rūca, Three struck, three rumbled,
Trīs zibināja. Three cast lightnings.